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President Donald Trump

President Trump’s order halts entry from seven countries, seeks to reform policy

Airports across the country were the sight of massive protests. Stock photo

By Victoria Espinoza and Alex Petroski

The recent executive order by President Donald Trump (R) for immigration reform affected refugees and immigrants across the country this past week, including a North Shore-bound traveler.

Trump signed an order Jan. 27 to ban travelers from seven nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the United States for the next 90 days. The immigration reform effort has been met with criticism from federal legislators and activists, and protests against the ban broke out in airports and cities across the country, some starting just hours after the order was signed.

President Donald Trump suspended entry from seven countries last week. File photo

Other federal politicians and commentators support the action, citing the country’s need to strengthen immigration laws and secure the U.S. from terrorist attacks.

Stony Brook student detained

The travel ban and its hasty roll out impacted Stony Brook University president of Graduate Student Organization, Vahideh Rasekhi, who is pursuing a doctorate in linguistics.

According to a statement from university President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Rasekhi was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport when she arrived back in the U.S. from a trip to Iran to visit her family, though she arrived on a layover flight from Ukraine. She was detained and later released Jan. 29. Stanley addressed Trump’s executive order, urging caution from international students, and recommending students from the seven countries listed in the order not travel outside of the U.S. unless absolutely necessary during the 90-day period.

“In November, I shared a message with the campus community expressing the university’s unwavering commitment to diversity — anchored in our strong values of access and inclusiveness — and to creating a campus environment that welcomes all,” Stanley said. “I want to reaffirm the university is resolute on this stance.”

Stanley also offered international students contact information for the university’s Visa and Immigration Services Office, and planned to host an information session with legal experts at the Wang Center yesterday, Feb. 1.

Rasekhi, who arrived at Stony Brook in 2010 after attending the University of California and California State University, declined an interview request, but addressed her experience in an emailed statement through a university media relations representative.

“I am now grateful to be back on the Stony Brook University campus, where I plan to complete my Ph.D. dissertation and continue my work as president of our Graduate Student Organization,” she said. “I would like to extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation to all who intervened on my behalf, including elected representatives, attorneys from the International Refugee Assistance Project and Legal Aid Society who volunteered their help, the ACLU, the [SBU] Linguistics Department and the leadership at Stony Brook University.”

Local officials react

The U.S. representative for New York’s 1st Congressional District, Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of Trump’s local supporters, said in an email through a press representative he played a role in Rasekhi’s release from JFK, though he said he supports the order.

“I sympathize with every innocent person looking to come to America for a better life but we must prioritize America’s national security first,” Zeldin said.

“I sympathize with every innocent person looking to come to America for a better life but we must prioritize America’s national security first.”

— Lee Zeldin

He added he would support a ban on all Syrian refugees entering the U.S. until vulnerabilities in vetting systems can be improved.

“America is a nation of immigrants and people should have the opportunity to pursue the American Dream,” Zeldin said. … “The ultimate humanitarian victory is to assist with efforts to stabilize these nations and eliminate the threats there to peace.”

He also said he plans to monitor the application of the order and intervene in cases where he believes it is being used incorrectly.

The 3rd Congressional District U.S. representative, Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), offered no such support for the order.

“While we all are concerned about the security of our people and our nation, we cannot abandon our values,” he said in a statement. … “This issue cannot become an excuse for discrimination. I am adamantly opposed to targeting whole populations of people based upon their religion. It is un-American.”

After the signing of the executive order Jan. 27, subsequent protests over detentions, the opinion that this order targets people based on religion and the apparent uncoordinated rollout, Trump issued a statement Jan. 29.

“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave,” he said. “We will keep it free and keep it safe. … To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban. … This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

A closer look at the order

David Sperling, an immigration attorney based out of Huntington Station, said he believes there is a need for reform.

“I’m an immigration attorney, I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” he said in a phone interview. “From being in immigration court I have seen there is a great deal of fraud even from people applying for asylum from the United States.”

He referenced a lack of documentation from refugees in areas like Syria.

Detractors of the ban have criticized the inclusion of the countries on the list — all of which have a Muslim-majority population.

According to New America, a nonpartisan think tank, “not one domestic terrorist attack since 9/11” has been executed by citizens of the seven countries now banned from entering the U.S. “Overall, terrorism in America is happening from homegrown radicals,” the think tank said. Foreign attackers have come from Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, none of which made the list.

The new administration has contended it has simply continued an initiative started by the Obama administration, which flagged the seven countries as possible areas of concern in 2015, and imposed limited restrictions.

“I’ve never in my career as an immigration attorney seen anything like this.”

— David Sperling

“I’ve never in my career as an immigration attorney seen anything like this,” Sperling said, though he added many aspects of Trump’s presidency thus far are without precedent.

During the 90-day period, the president has ordered the Secretary of Homeland Security with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence to review the current information required from a country before a traveler is granted a visa or admission to the U.S. to ensure the country is not allowing in individuals who are security threats.

The executive order states the 90-day ban is needed to ensure research during this time is successful, the maximum utilization of resources are being used and adequate standards are established. The order also leaves room for special exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

A mission of this order is to eventually implement new uniform screening standards for immigration programs.

For immigrants and refugees, there is already an extensive system process in place.

For immigration screening, according to the State Department, the process includes submitting a petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, submitting financial and other supporting documents, and completing an interview.

“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe. … To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban. … This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

— Donald Trump

According to the White House, the refugee screening process involves multiple steps, including interviews with the United Nations refugee agency to confirm refugee status and conducting biographic security checks. While all of these steps are happening, each refugee’s file is being continuously reevaluated based on any new, relevant terrorism information.

Less than 1 percent of the global refugee population makes it past the first step in the process currently. The order also suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, but plans to prioritize refugee claims of minority religious-based persecution in their home country.

The ban also sets a 50,000 cap on refugees allowed to enter the states in 2017, compared to the Obama administration’s goal of admitting 110,000 refugees, according to the Pew Research Institute.

The order intends to complete and implement a biometric entry-exit tracking system of fingerprints and digital photos for all travelers to the U.S. which was discussed by prior administrations and committees.

The order also intends that there will be more transparency in reporting facts and data collection to the public regarding the number of foreign nationals who planned or carried out acts of terrorism.

Sperling said most of his clientele come from Hispanic communities and are concerned about the future.

“They’re scared, they don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sperling said. “There’s a great deal of fear and uncertainty in the immigrant community.”

The Port Jefferson Frigate became the center of a controversy over a pro-Donald Trump sign last weekend that read “In Trump we trust.” Photo by Courtney Biondo

A decades-old Port Jefferson Village candy and ice cream store became the subject of a heated political debate over the weekend, after the business owner hung a large sign reading “In Trump we trust” from the building’s façade in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration Jan. 20.

The Port Jefferson Frigate, also called Roger’s Frigate, is owned by George Wallis and has been a staple in the Port Jeff community for generations. Wallis authorized for the banner to be hung at his business Jan. 20 as a sign of support for the incoming president on Inauguration Day, according to Roger Rutherford, the general manager of the business who also maintains the property. Rutherford, who has worked at the Frigate for 20 years, said in a phone interview that Wallis declined to comment on the banner, but authorized Rutherford to comment on his behalf.

After a weekend of expressions of support and opposition from the community by phone and in the store, according to Rutherford, the banner was no longer visible as of the morning of Jan. 23. Rutherford said Wallis had planned all along to remove the banner after the weekend, despite a statement by email from Barbara Sakovich, a representative from Village Mayor Margot Garant’s office, which said an “order to remedy” was sent to the business Jan. 20 because the banner was in violation of section 250-31D(2)(iv) of the village code. Rutherford also called responses to the banner from the community “overwhelmingly positive.”

Rutherford said he and Wallis didn’t believe the code prohibited the banner, and opposition to its positioning could be attributed to an effort to target Wallis based on his political beliefs.

“Throughout the election I can drive around this entire village and see signs for presidential candidates, senators, local government — and that’s completely okay,” he said. “I think it’s targeting Mr. Wallis for his political views. I think we have a little bit of a double standard here.”

Garant, who said the phone was “ringing off the hook,” with complaints at village hall over the course of the weekend, addressed the claim the violation was issued because of the political message of the sign.

“We wrote the violation based on our code,” she said in an interview. “We try and get anybody — resident, commercial business owner, commercial property owner — to comply with the code. Putting up a sign like that knowing that it’s not going to comply with the code, the village did its job. I stand behind the village for writing the violation based on the material, the size and the way the sign was hung.”

Garant said the sign was removed in a timely manner and no further action would be required.

Rutherford added he and Wallis hope Trump “could successfully move the country forward,” and that the Inauguration Day should have been a time for the country to come together towards reaching common goals.

“It was up there in a congratulatory way,” Rutherford said of the banner.

A Facebook page was set up over the weekend calling for the community to boycott the establishment, and as of Monday morning the page had been liked by 88 people. After reaching out to the creator of the page for a comment, the page was deleted. It is not clear who was responsible for creating it. Rutherford said he and Wallis had a busy weekend business-wise, so they didn’t have a chance to see any social media response to the banner, nor did he feel the business felt any effects from the calls for a boycott. Garant said she encouraged the creator of the page to take it down.

“We’re really not concerned about it at all,” Rutherford said of the possible impact the political statement might have on business.

Another page was created Jan. 22 in support of the business.

“This page is solely intended to support the PJ Frigate and their right to political freedom without fear of repercussions, which is an American right and freedom,” a post on the page said.

A sign in support of Trump also hung from the building in the days leading up to the election, and Rutherford said the response was similarly mixed at that time.

This version was updated with comments from Margot Garant Jan. 25.

While millions across the globe took part in the Women’s March on Washington and other sister marches Jan. 21, hundreds met on the corner of Route 347 and Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station to make their voices heard.

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized and threatened many of us — immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault — and our communities are hurting and scared,” a website established to organize the marches states in its mission.

Community members who attended the event from across the North Shore reiterated many of those concerns during the march in Port Jeff Station, which according to the site was the only affiliated sister march on Long Island.

“I wanted to say something today to make all of the anxiety, the anger and fear go away, but that’s not going to happen. It shouldn’t happen because times are rough and the current circumstances call for anxiety, anger and fear.”

—Kathy Lahey

“Getting out here in unity and letting our voices be heard is crucial,” Port Jefferson resident Kathy Lahey said over a megaphone to those in attendance. Lahey said she was responsible for organizing the sister march, getting the word out and getting it officially recognized as an affiliate on the website. “We are all in this together. Together we will fight for equality, for fairness and for justice. I wanted to say something today to make all of the anxiety, the anger and fear go away, but that’s not going to happen. It shouldn’t happen because times are rough and the current circumstances call for anxiety, anger and fear.”

Women, men and children of all ages, races and backgrounds were represented at the march. The March on Washington and all of those affiliated were set up intentionally to coincide with President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration Jan. 20 as a means to combat what they view as his alienating rhetoric during the campaign, and since his election victory, as well as to voice opposition for several policies on his agenda and nominations for his cabinet positions. Health care, equal rights, demanding the release of the President’s tax returns and immigration policy were among the topics most frequently referenced by signs and chants by attendees.

President Trump addressed the worldwide marches through his personal Twitter account.

“Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views,” he said Jan. 22, though he later added if all present had gone out and vote they may have been heard sooner.

Many in attendance said they weren’t sure what to expect when they decided to attend, but were blown away by the unity and solidarity they felt upon arriving.

“My initial reaction when I pulled up was I burst into tears because I’m sad that we have to be here, but in the end I’m left feeling very empowered because even though the road to progress is a jagged road, in the end love will always win,” Daniela McKee of Setauket said. McKee said she is a teacher, and brought her own kids with her to experience the event. “I think it’s important that they learn from a very early age that they have to fight for what they believe in and for their rights and equality.”

Joyce Edward of Jefferson Ferry, who is in her 90s, shared her reasons for marching.

“We’re going so far back, it’s sad,” she said. “I think it is important and I hope that maybe our congress people will pay attention. I don’t think Mr. Trump will. He pays attention to one person: himself.”

“My initial reaction when I pulled up was I burst into tears because I’m sad that we have to be here, but in the end I’m left feeling very empowered because even though the road to progress is a jagged road.”

—Daniela McKee

Edward added that her deep concern for where the country is headed for her children and grandchildren inspired her to get out and participate.

She questioned if 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has been a vocal Trump supporter since he emerged as the likely Republican Presidential candidate, would be an advocate for those unhappy with the President’s beliefs and proposed policies.

“If he’s behind Trump then I’m not behind him,” Jeff Schroeder of Greenport also said of Zeldin. “It scares me that someone so far off from the ideologies of people I know is running our district.”

Zeldin addressed the march in an emailed statement through a spokeswoman.

“2017 presents new opportunities to improve our community, state and nation,” he said. “To move our country forward, unity amongst the American people is the most critical necessity. Ideological differences will always exist, but the pursuit of common ground must be the highest priority. In Congress, I have always been and remain willing to work with absolutely anyone to find common ground on anything wherever and whenever possible.”

New York State Sen. and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) was among those marching in New York City.

“Thank you to all the New Yorkers, Americans and people in NY, Washington, and all over the world who laced up your shoes today,” he said in an email. “It was only the beginning.”

Several marchers said they were encouraged by the overwhelming support the large crowd provided for them.

“We just need to be heard — the frustration about what’s going on. I have a daughter. I have a wife … it can’t get worse in my mind.”

—Mitchell Riggs

“It’s so heartening that people realize that they can actually be involved in changing things in government,” Sherry Eckstein of Huntington said.

Allyson Matwey of Wading River expressed a similar sentiment.

“I did not know what to expect coming here today, and I’m just in awe that there’s men, women, children — all ages, all everything here today, and it’s amazing,” she said.

Mitchell Riggs of Middle Island attended the march with two of his children, while his wife attended the New York City march.

“We just need to be heard — the frustration about what’s going on,” he said. “I have a daughter. I have a wife … it can’t get worse in my mind.”

While addressing the crowd, Lahey stressed the importance of seeing the march as the beginning of a movement, and not a solitary event.

“President Obama also said at his farewell speech that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it,” she said. “And here we are — hundreds, maybe thousands — standing together on a street corner in solidarity, a group of ordinary people getting involved, getting engaged, demanding that our servants do what we hired them to do. … Contact your representatives on a regular basis. … Let them know we are here, we are involved, we are engaged and we are not going away.”