Sally Regan of Portland holds a sign Tuesday evening during the Stand with Muslims rally at City Hall in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling upholding President Trump’s travel ban.

More than 100 people stood on the steps of Portland City Hall Tuesday evening holding protest signs and speaking out against the Trump administration in a demonstration triggered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the president’s travel ban.

The court ruled 5-4 Tuesday that the president has the authority to ban travelers from several mostly Muslim countries if he thinks it is necessary to protect the country.

Lower courts had struck down three versions of the president’s travel ban, the first of which was issued in January 2017. The first two placed restrictions on both refugee resettlement and travel from several foreign countries.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the third iteration, which specifically bans travelers from seven countries, five of which – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – have Muslim-majority populations. It also covers two non-Muslim countries, blocking people from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families. Chad was originally included in the ban but was later removed.

At first, the Portland demonstration, which was organized on Facebook, was a silent demonstration. No one spoke for the first 30 minutes or so. But, after a local pastor stood up and urged protesters to voice their opinions, several people did not hesitate to take the opportunity to bash President Trump’s policies and to warn that unless the country takes a stronger stand against his policies, America could become a totalitarian state.

“This country was founded by immigrants, for immigrants. To say that immigrants should be shoved away is completely counter to everything this country has always stood for,” Falmouth resident Carolyn Turcio-Gilman said.

“If we don’t take back the House and Senate in November, our country is going to turn into a totalitarian state,” added John Riley, also of Falmouth.

Nancy Anderson of Cumberland said of the decision upholding Trump’s travel ban, “Coming on the heels of the family separation controversy, our country is turning into a pileup of incidents where the rest of the world is thinking that Americans are hardening their hearts.”

Nancy Anderson of Cumberland held a sign that read, “Make America Kind Again.”

“I’m disheartened. I had hoped on the principle of non-discrimination that the court would have struck the travel ban down,” Anderson said. “Coming on the heels of the family-separation controversy, our country is turning into a pileup of incidents where the rest of the world is thinking that Americans are hardening their hearts.”

Colin Cheney of Freeport brought his 6-year-old daughter to the rally as a way to raise her awareness about an issue that is important to their family. Cheney’s daughter carried a couple of handwritten signs, one of which read, “Donald Trump is making a bad decision.”

“We want her to know that everybody in this country is equal regardless of where they may have come from,” Cheney said. “Somehow, this travel ban just doesn’t jibe with that belief.”

Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, pastor at the Hope Gateway Church in Portland, said the show of community support for immigrants is important because the United States was founded on religious freedom. Ewing-Merrill said the Trump administration seems to be using hot-button issues like family separation at the border and travel bans to keep Americans “distracted and outraged” while he pushes his own political agenda.

“The travel ban is based on a white nationalist racist agenda,” he said. “This rally shows that Portland is a city that embraces people from all over the world regardless of their religious beliefs or their place of birth.”

“We have gone so off course and so off base that we as a people cannot follow unjust laws. This Supreme Court decision is unjust,” U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein told the crowd, which cheered after he made his remarks. “We are in very dangerous territory. We need to take our government back, right now.”

Ringelstein, a Democrat who is challenging independent Angus King for his Senate seat, was arrested in Texas on Friday for refusing to leave a child detention center. Ringelstein was attempting to deliver toys and books to children being held at a detention center in McAllen, Texas. He was released from jail on Saturday.

The #StandWithMuslims rally, one of dozens across the country, began at 5 p.m. and lasted more than an hour. It was promoted locally on Facebook by the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, which also announced that another rally – Families Belong Together – will be held this Saturday at 3 p.m. at Portland City Hall.

“This is a shameful decision,” ILAP said in its Facebook post. “The travel ban was clearly based in religious animus, but the majority of justices took the proclamation at face value.”

Participants at the Portland rally were urged to convey their concerns to Maine legislators in Washington, to videotape U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents questioning people about citizenship, and to urge people to register to vote in the midterm elections this fall.

Protesters, left to right, John Thibodeau and Joanna Frankel and her son Elijah Brody, 9, of Portland participate in the Stand with Muslims rally Tuesday evening at Portland City Hall.

A fourth travel ban, which was issued in October, has had a significant impact on Maine. That order specifically addressed refugees. It put a hold on resettlement from 11 countries, which has since expired. It also established new screening procedures for refugees from those countries, which has dramatically slowed the process of resettlement.

As a result, just 58 refugees have arrived in Maine in the federal fiscal year that started in October. Catholic Charities Maine, the state’s only refugee resettlement agency, expected to receive more than 350 people this year, a significant drop from the 642 refugees resettled in Maine last year.

“Our arrivals are particularly low,” said Hannah DeAngelis, program director for Refugee and Immigration Services at Catholic Charities. “Numbers are really low nationally, but even lower in Maine because of the families that are already living here and where those families are from.”

DeAngelis said most of Maine’s refugees have traditionally come from Muslim-majority countries affected by the Trump administration policies. For example, the state has accepted 77 refugees from Syria since 2014, but no one has arrived this year. In recent years, hundreds of refugees have come from Iraq and Somalia, but the number of new arrivals from each of those countries was just 13 as of Tuesday. More than half of the people who have been resettled in Maine this year are from Congo, which was not included on the travel ban.

Refugee status is a designation given by the United Nations to people who have fled their countries because of persecution, war or violence. Refugees receive assistance from the United Nations while waiting to qualify for resettlement, a process that DeAngelis said takes years and is getting longer because of Trump administration policies. Once resettled in the U.S., refugees are eligible for federal cash assistance for up to eight months.

While Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling is not related to refugee resettlement, DeAngelis said it will still impact people in Maine and clients at Catholic Charities.

“It adds to the climate of fear and confusion around immigration that people in Maine are feeling,” she said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

 

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