News Local/State

Hundreds Attend Rally For Immigrants At U Of I’s Willard Airport

Rally at Willard Airport

A rally protesting President Trump's travel ban affecting many majority Muslim countries at Willard Airport on Sunday attracted an estimated 600 participants. Travis Stansel/Illinois Public Media

An estimated 600 people attended Sunday’s rally against President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. The event came together after organizers like Ann Abbott reached out on Facebook the night before. She says the Trump administration is trying to use fear to pit U.S. citizens against one another. “This is not 2001, this is 2017, and we are smart, not scared,” she said.

Protesters gathered at Williard Airport on Sunday

Travis Stansel/Illinois Public Media

The group at the protest braved temperatures in the mid-20’s and heavy winds, marching and chanting outside Willard Airport for an hour. The group included a number of families with their children.

Circling the sidewalk outside Willard, the group chanted "love not hate", "no ban, no wall, no hate", and "where's Rodney Davis?", a call for the 13th District Republican Congressman to respond to Trump's executive order.

Urbana business owner Mohammad Al-Heeti, who came to the U.S. from Iraq thirty-four years ago, was among the first to respond to Abbott’s suggestion about the rally at Willard.

“What (Trump) did in one week – he tried to divide us, to oppress us, and he never mentioned in his campaign anything about education, about health, about anything to bring the power to the people themselves," he said.

Dawn Taylor of rural Danville got emotional just thinking of Trump’s executive order issued Friday.

“My heart’s breaking, and it’s not fair," she said. "It hurts.”

Monica Uddin, a native of Canada, became a U.S. citizen in 2015 and voted in her first election last November.

“This is not the country that I signed up to become a citizen of,” she said. "I’m very happy that others feel the same way.”

A University of Illinois psychology professor, Uddin says some students in her research group are from the seven affected countries in Trump's executive order, and her family is Muslim.

“My father has had experiences of being profiled at the border, and it’s unconscionable,” she said. “It shouldn’t be happening.”

Emily Kerlin teaches English as a Second Language courses at Champaign’s Westview Elementary, working with a lot of families from another countries.

"This is such a threat to their existence in this country, which was built on the premise of being open immigrants and refugees," she said.  "It's just terrifying and hearbreaking to me."

Local physician Dr. Shamim Sadiq is a Muslim from India.

“I represent the majority of the Muslims, who are peace loving people,” she said, speaking through a megaphone before the group outside the airport. “Don’t distribute more hatred. Keep talking about peace. Keep talking about humanity. The refugees should be given a fair chance, especially the people who are trying to go through legal channels.”

State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) also called on Congressman Davis to come to Willard, and for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to respond to those being held at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing reminded the crowd that the community is Illinois' only downstate "Sanctuary City", meaning city police and employees don't inquire about an individual's immigration status, and that Urbana will oppose any efforts to strip federal funds from the community for protecting those living in the country illegally from deportation.

"This is a nation of laws, and I think that the new president is going to find that out," she said.

UPDATE: 12:30 p.m. Monday Congressman Davis released a statement, indicating his support for the president's executive order.

“This is not a ban on Muslims and anyone spouting that rhetoric is dangerous and it’s frankly insulting to me and the work my office has done to help many Muslim immigrants go through the legal channels to become citizens," he said.  "I have never and will never support a religious test to enter this country. That goes against the very belief on which our nation was founded. But people are kidding themselves if they think our current ‘vetting’ processes for refugees are not leaving our country open to terrorist attacks like we’ve seen in Europe."

Davis contends this action is similar to what the Obama administration did in 2011 when it paused visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.

Meanwhile, Republican 15th District Congressman John Shimkus of Collinsville released his own statement of support for the immigration measure.

“My record on this issue is clear, and has not changed: I support a vetting process that ensures every refugee, migrant or foreign national is not a security threat prior to his or her admission to the United States," he said. "That’s why I supported bipartisan legislation to stop the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees until our nation’s top security officials can be certain that each individual poses no threat to our homeland."

Shimkus said this action by Trump will give Congress and the Trump Administration time to evaluate and improve the vetting process, and in the meantime gives Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly authority to grant exceptions to the restrictions as needed.

Two protesters hold signs outside Willard Airport during Sunday's rally

Photo Credit: Travis Stansel/Illinois Public Media