2017-02-10 / Front Page

City declares support for civil rights

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Protests to the immigration policy of newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump have been frequent, widespread and vocal. But now they’re something else – official.

On Monday, Feb. 6, the South Portland City Council unanimously adopted a resolution “expressing solidarity with Muslims and all those targeted for their ethnicity, race or religion.”

On Jan. 27, Trump signed an executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” It suspends for 90 days the issuance of travel visas to anyone trying to enter the U.S. from seven countries that were, Trump administration officials point out, identified by the Obama administration as “countries of concern” due to a history of ties to terrorist activates. Only Syria is actually named in the order, the rest having been identified afterward by the Department of Homeland Security based on the 2015 Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, which Obama signed as a rider to the 2016 omnibus spending bill. Trump’s order also suspends for 120 days the entire U.S. system for admitting foreign refugees into the county.

While the order applies to all nationals of seven counties, it has been widely condemned by Trump critics as a “Muslim ban,” even though administration spokesman have countered that there are 44 Muslim majority nations not on the list.

The travel ban was adopted, according to the administration, to reassess security measures and the vetting process for entry into the U.S. from hotspots of terrorism and does not target Muslims in particular. Still, Trump has fanned the flames by saying Christians will be given priority for admission as refugees following reassessment of that program.

That, taken with his campaign promises to crack down on illegal immigration and build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, prompted South Portland Mayor Patti Smith to submit the resolution, which, in addition to expressing solidarity with Muslims and other persecuted groups, condemns violence and hate speech.

Several attacks on minorities and non-Christian religious groups have been reported across the country since Trump’s election. Although some were later revealed as false reports, or were actually perpetrated by people trying to cast additional aspersions on Trump, most have seemed genuine, including the recent circulation of Klu Klux Klan recruitment flyers in Freeport.

A capacity crowd packed council chambers for the vote, with about 20, including Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth) and school Superintendent Ken Kunin, rising to speak. All those who spoke expressed support for the resolution, which notes the “unprecedented backlash” against Muslims nationwide since 9/11. The resolution notes that about 7 percent of South Portland residents are foreign born, including “hundreds” of Muslims.

“Following recent news, one can understand that a sizable number of our students and families, some of whom have overcome tremendous barriers to reach the United States, to reach Maine, to reach South Portland, to build new futures, are getting messages that they are not valued and not wanted,” Kunin said. “In particular, our Muslim students and families may feel that because of who they are and what they believe, that they are not welcome.”

Kunin said the ethic diversity in South Portland schools “is four times greater than in the state of Maine as a whole.”

The resolution does not call out Trump by name, but does appear to cite his election atop a wave of populist rhetoric of concern to Kunin and others who spoke.

“We are saddened and outraged at the recent escalation of hateful rhetoric against our fellow residents who are Muslim, those perceived to be Muslim, asylum seekers, and immigrants, both nationally and locally, and we are particularly concerned to see political figures and elected government officials leading this escalation and exploiting people’s fear of random acts of violence and terrorism in order to gain power,” it reads. “We, as elected representatives of the people, have a special responsibility not to stay silent in the face of hate, violence, and discrimination against any of our constituents or countrymen.”

“We’re all immigrants and we need to stick together,” Smith said.

Among the specific stances taken in the resolution, it:

 Condemns all hateful speech and violent action directed at Muslims, those perceived to be Muslims, asylum seekers, and immigrants;

 Categorically rejects political tactics that use fear to manipulate voters or to gain power or influence;

 Reaffirms the value of a pluralistic society, the beauty of an American culture influenced by multiple cultures, and the inalienable right of every person to live and practice their faith without fear, and;

 Commits to upholding a policy that affirms civil and human rights, and ensures that those targeted on the basis of race, religion or immigration status can turn to the government without fear of recrimination.”

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