By Adam Federman, VTDigger
RUTLAND — Hundreds gathered in Rutland on Saturday, Jan. 28, in opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending refugee resettlement for 120 days and indefinitely barring Syrian refugees from the country.
The order, signed late Friday, drew widespread condemnation from legal advocates and spurred an immediate lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and others, and Trumps executive orders were found unconstitutional.
A federal judge in Brooklyn issued an emergency stay Saturday evening preventing deportation of refugees or people with valid visas who arrive at U.S. airports. However, at Dulles airport the airport authority’s deputy police chief refused to abide by the court order and stop the detention and deportation of Muslims. People were detained at several airports on Saturday across the country.
Since news of the executive order was leaked last week, the volunteer group Rutland Welcomes has been grappling with the fact that Rutland will most likely no longer be a resettlement site.
The city was due to receive up to 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The first two Syrian families arrived earlier this month. Trump’s executive order effectively bars any more Syrian refugees from entering the country and describes them as “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
A spokesperson said the group was deeply disappointed by the decision but wanted to show support for the refugee families who have arrived.
“This is a time for support, love and compassion, not angry protests,” said Hunter Berryhill of Rutland Welcomes. “We cannot let our feelings about the president’s actions overshadow our commitment and support for these two couples and their five children, who have overcome horrific circumstances and long odds to get here. They must continue to be our primary focus.”
The rally in Main Street Park along Route 7 featured remarks from Mayor Chris Louras, Castleton University professor Emily Gleason, the Rev. Hannah Rogers from Rutland United Methodist Church, and a Rutland High School student. Supporters waving homemade signs came from throughout the county, including Brandon and Tinmouth.
Rogers drew on the words of the Constitution to argue that the ban on refugees flies in the face of the nation’s values. “We have been told that what our forefathers proclaimed as self-evident truths are now some of the alternative facts,” Rogers said. “We have been told that hate is somehow the way of Jesus Christ. We have been told our laws only apply to certain religions, certain ethnicities and that the myth of race is the measuring stick of our human values.”
While refugee supporters spoke out against Trump’s action, members of the group Rutland First embraced the news. The group had opposed bringing Syrian or Iraqi refugees to the city. Although largely dormant since Rutland was selected as a resettlement site in September, the group has maintained a Facebook page and is supporting candidates for mayor and the Board of Aldermen.
After the executive order was announced one commenter on the Rutland First Facebook page wrote, “News keeps reporting all in Rutland are very unhappy with the news of the presidential order. I see it as an eleventh hour save.”
Another wrote, “So I know Rutland welcomes had a demonstration yesterday at the park. How about we get a Rutland first one going????”
Meanwhile crowds of protesters flocked to airports around the country to show their support for refugees and others who had been detained on arrival.
In Vermont, the state chapter of the ACLU said it was monitoring the impact of the Trump order locally. It asked the public to immediately tell the ACLU of any problems encountered at Vermont ports of entry, including information about anyone detained by U.S. Immigration officials.
Refugee supporters also rallied in Burlington on Sunday.
“I’m happy that so many people in the United States care about the refugees and are concerned about what happens to them, including those in transit,” said Anne Richard, who served as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration under President Barack Obama.
According to Richard, who left the State Department on Inauguration Day, there was very little if any interagency discussion or review during the transition. Though Trump has criticized the refugee resettlement program for what he says is an inadequate vetting process, Richard said it is incredibly thorough and designed to weed out anyone who might pose a threat to the United States. Richard said the directives are coming from the White House and that career civil servants and experts at the State Department have been sidelined.
“A lot of these topics are not sacrosanct,” Richard said. “You could ask questions or carry out a study. That would be the responsible way to behave and then you could argue over the policy. But instead it’s just these knee-jerk decisions that are based on campaign rhetoric and not on facts. That’s so irresponsible.”
“If they were truly interested in improving the vetting process they would have found out more about it before signing the executive order,” Richard added.
Last year the United States accepted more than 12,000 Syrian refugees. Though there wasn’t a target set for the current fiscal year, Richard said she encouraged her staff to bring in more than the previous year.
“My colleagues were concerned about what the Trump administration would do, but because there were so few Trump officials from the transition involved, including coming to the State Department and talking to us, there were more questions than there were answers,” Richard said.
Confirmation of Trump’s nominee to head the department, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, is still pending.