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St. Louisans among thousands protesting Trump’s immigration order nationwide

Protesters gathered outside the Terminal 1 departure area at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on Jan. 29, 2017.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Protesters gathered outside the Terminal 1 departure area at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Updated to include information about Sunday's protest and official responses at 7:50 p.m.

St. Louisans gathered throughout the region over the weekend to protest President Donald J. Trump's executive order barring citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

More than 200 people gathered downtown on Saturday. Organizers began planning within hours of President Trump signing the executive order Friday.

“First, I hope that our congressman here in St. Louis and our senators really hear us so they can put pressure on the Trump administration. Because I think that’s the most effective way to create change, locally,” said rally organizer Sarah Masoud, 24. “I hope they really heard us today and will actually do something about it.”

The order, titled "Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," bars entry to the United States by people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Throughout the day, protests also took place at airports throughout the country. In St. Louis people gathered at Poelker Park across from St. Louis City Hall to express opposition to the order and support of immigrants and Muslims.

Some came out for immigrants and Muslims already in the United States and those detained at airports.

“I also hope immigrants in the community know that we are here to support them and stand up for them, that would include my own family members. And I just want them to know that as a community, we’re accepting and they don’t need to be scared and we’re going to do all that we can to help in any way,” said Amanda Tello, 27, another organizer.

Rally organizers Sarah Masoud, 24, and Amanda Tallo, 27, with their sign as the protest concludes.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Rally organizers Sarah Masoud, 24, and Amanda Tello, 27, with their sign as the protest concludes.

Some came to support the idea of religious freedom and expression. Social worker Mark Smith said he found Trump’s executive order offensive.

“For one thing, I’m a Christian and religious liberty is very important to me. And any time one group is singled out because of their religious beliefs that’s deeply offensive to me,” he said. “I think it’s immoral.”

Some expressed the hope that the protest would push mayoral candidates to discuss immigration at Sunday's debate at Saint Louis University. Julia Van Horn addressed the crowd through a bullhorn and later reiterated her point.

“All the major metropolitan cities are sanctuary cities and I believe St. Louis should be one of them," Van Horn said. “So if we can put pressure on the candidates to commit to making St. Louis a sanctuary city we will be better off for it.”

Participants decried the order, saying it will have severe social and economic impacts.

As the demonstration at Poelker Park ended Saturday afternoon, protests at airports continued throughout the evening. The ACLU later announced the organization had won atemporary staypreventing the government from deporting people who have lawfully landed in the United States with visas. Reuters reports 375 travelerswere affected by the order since Saturday according to The Department of Homeland Security.

In a statement released on Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security noted that it “will comply with judicial orders; faithfully enforce our immigration laws, and implement the president’s Executive Orders to ensure that those entering the United States do not pose a threat to our country or the American people.”

Protests Continue

Around 1:00 p.m., Sunday, hundreds of protesters gathered at Lambert—St. Louis International Airport to continue expressing opposition to the president's Executive Order on immigration.

Protest organizers had been in touch with airport administrators ahead of the demonstration and faced initial pushback. Organizers said they had been told by the airport director that the size may be limited to 50 or 100 people, which prompted the ACLU to file a lawsuit on behalf of the protesters.

Hours later, at the start of the demonstration, Lambert spokesman Jeff Lea said the airport would not limit its size as long entrances and exits remained clear.

Attendees expressed opposition similar to the issues raised at Saturday’s event at Poelker Park.

Protesters chanted “No hate! No fear! Muslims are welcome here!” “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” and “Move Trump, get out the way, get out the way Trump, get out the way.”

Pediatrician John Lin said Trump's orders undermine any claims that America stands for justice or human rights.

“If we’re going to turn away refugees just because they came from the wrong country or don’t espouse Christian beliefs then we have no leg to stand on,” Lin said.

Lin said served in the military and found it disturbing that Trump is now the commander-in-chief.

“I’m ashamed for all of those people in the military who are blindly following a false commander-in-chief because he is undermining the things that we swore to defend and we swore to protect.”

Several signs directly addressed the issue of immigration and freedom of religion. (Jan. 29, 2017)
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Several signs directly addressed the issue of immigration and freedom of religion.

Mohamad Barakat said he was protesting to represent everyone in America who’s losing their rights and privileges.

“It’s unbelievable how we’re being treated in our own country by a new president that we don’t know anything about.” Barakat said. “All he knows is money, he doesn’t care about the people or anything like that. He cares about his businesses and that’s it."

The protested continued until after 4:00 p.m. before disbanding peacefully.

Official Response

As protests intensified throughout the weekend, Missouri’s elected leaders took differing views of Trump’s executive order.

In a statement sent to St. Louis Public Radio on Sunday, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Trump is doing something that people have seen too little of in recent years. He is doing what he told the American people he would do.” During the campaign Trump initially promised  a “complete shutdown of Muslims from entering the United States until “we know what’s going on.” He later shifted that pledge to barring Muslims from “countries tied to Islamic terror.”

“I would not support a travel ban on Muslims; I do support increased vetting on people applying to travel from countries with extensive terrorist ties or activity. These seven countries meet that standard,” Blunt said. “Our top priority should be to keep Americans safe.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill took a dimmer view of Trump’s executive order. The Missouri Democratic senator said on Saturday that she had “serious questions to ask about the decree from President Trump that certain children from certain countries, based on certain religion, are no longer welcome in our country.”

“And the notion that our government would then prioritize on religion for admittance to our nation flies in the face of our sacred value of liberty and freedom of religion,” McCaskill said.

A group of young women were some of the strongest chanters throughout the protest.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
A group of young women were some of the strongest chanters throughout the protest.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens met with Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday. But a statement on Facebook didn’t indicate whether the Republican governor discussed Trump’s executive order. An e-mail to Greitens' spokesman asking for his opinion on the matter did not receive a response.

While he was campaigning for governor last year, Greitens was asked during a debate in July about Trump’s statements about banning Muslims from entering the country. This was his response:

“Of course there should be no religious test, that’s unconstitutional. "We absolutely have to have in place to properly screen people who are coming into this country. Missouri has always been a welcoming state. The United States of America has always been welcoming. After the Berlin Wall fell and Glasnost started, Missouri welcomed thousands of Jews who were fleeing from Russia. I worked in Bosnia with victims of ethnic cleansing. We have tens of thousands of fantastic Bosnian citizens here in the state of Missouri.

“But you have to have a screen process for people who are coming from Iraq and from Syria. "You can buy right now a fake passport on the black market in Turkey. So you have to have a screening process. And we have to have leaders at every level who are willing to recognize the threat of radical Islamic terrorism; who are willing to call it by its name; and are willing to stand up and to defeat it.”

Although Greitens didn’t release a statement about Trump’s actions, his predecessor, former Gov. Jay Nixon, condemned the order on Twitter.

"Christians come together as we worship today. Banning muslims from America is wrong. Jeremiah 22:3 do no wrong or violence to the foreigner,” Nixon wrote

Another rally is planned for Wednesday, outside the Clayton office of Sen. Blunt, in support of immigrant rights.

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold

What's your immigration story? 
If you are being touched personally by President Trump's executive order, and have your own immigration story to share, please click here and respond through our Public Insight Network.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.