STORRS – Chants erupted from the crowd of several hundred students, faculty and local residents at the University of Connecticut united outside the Student Union building Wednesday afternoon to show solidarity with undocumented immigrants and refugees in light of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order.
The order prevents nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States for at least 90 days from its passing. It also has drawn concern from undocumented residents and green card holders.
Eric Cruz Lopez, an undocumented UConn student, addressed the members of the crowd regarding the struggles that he faces due to his legal status.
Originally born in Mexico, Lopez said he has spent most of his life in the U.S. He said that, among other things, he does not have legal access to the same institutional privileges as students who are U.S. citizens.
“Being undocumented doesn’t end when I cross the border,” he said. “I stand here before you as an undocumented immigrant, but also as an organizer. There needs to be change right here and right now.”
Sana Suhail, president of the university’s Muslim Student Association, said she did not want the purpose of the rally to be misunderstood.
“This is not about ‘Trump is bad.’ We are here to educate people,” she said. “We want UConn as an institution to be more vocal to let people know that this is not what we believe in.”
Community Outreach Chair of the association Eeman Abbasi told onlookers about one of her first encounters with religion-based discrimination.
Abbasi said when she was age 10, someone on her school bus asked her if she stored AK-47 assault rifles in her hijab.
“At age 10, I had no idea what an AK-47 even was,” she said.
She said she will remain committed to her Muslim faith regardless of the circumstances.
“This insinuation and conflation of violence with my religion started before I was born and continues today,” she said. “But I stand before you to tell you that I am unapologetically Muslim.”
Joe Petriella, a UConn student who said he came in support of President Trump, said he respected the protesting students.
“I really liked seeing everybody out there expressing First Amendment rights, but I don’t necessarily agree with what they were protesting,” he said.
Petriella said his disagreement was rooted in the interpretation of Trump’s order as a ban targeting Muslims.
“It’s not really a ban, they just put it on hold for a couple of months to revise the vetting process,” he said. “I feel like it’ll make Americans more comfortable about taking in refugees from other countries where there’s a prevalence of terrorism.”
After the rally, Lopez hosted workshops to teach students how to phone bank and contact senators.
A UConn student who helped organize the event, Omar Taweh, said this rally was different than ones in the past.
“It’s to educate students on how to make their voices heard on a federal level,” he said. “We’re teaching people how to go beyond just protesting.”