SOMERVILLE, NJ – Hundreds of pro-immigration supporters gathered in front of the steps of the historic Somerset County Courthouse on Saturday evening in solidarity against President Donald Trump’s executive orders authorizing construction of a wall along the Mexican border and a temporary ban on immigration from seven Mideast countries.
Federal District Court Judge James Robart issued a restraining order in Seattle Friday that blocks Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order banning immigration to the United States of non-U.S. citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations for a period of 90 days during which time the U.S. would examine and re-tool its vetting procedures for immigration.
The White House said the U.S. Department of Justice would file an emergency appeal.
In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security suspended its enforcement of the ban on Saturday.
That was cause for celebration for the protestors.
Peg Schaffer, chair of the Somerset County Democratic Party, referring to Trump as “Racist-in-Chief," saluted Robart’s ruling.
“We call on other federal judges to do the right thing,” she added, suggesting that other executive orders issued by Trump should be quashed by the judiciary.
Bundled up against the 24-degree temperature, some clutched cups of hot coffee, while others hoisted homemade signs with a variety of grievances.
Chants of “Have No Fear, Immigrants Are Welcome Here,” “No Ban, No Wall, “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” “People United Will Never Be Defeated,” broke out intermittently as the organizers and speakers on the courthouse steps passed a microphone down the line, taking turns exhorting the crowd to stand united.
Steve Peter, president of the Somerville Borough Council, welcomed the crowd to “Somerset County’s Downtown,” where many of the addresses on Main Street and side streets are home to restaurants that specialize in ethnic foods - Filipino, Japanese, Thai, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Irish, Italian and others.
He reminded the crowd that the seat of government in Somerset County was reflective of American culture and society, a mix of ethnicities and languages, seen and heard on Main Street daily.
“We want to welcome people into our country,” Peter said.
The event was sponsored by the Young Democrats of Somerset County.
Pat O'Connell, co-president of the SCYD said the rally represented "a chance for people who feel frustrated by the president's actions to get out and meet one another."
Dr. Alex Kharazi, president of the Franklin Township Interfaith Coalition and director/vice president of Masjid-e-Ali Mosque, also spoke in support of immigrants and Muslims.
"We all want to have secure borders," Kharazi said. "But we can do it without closing our borders to immigrants and refugees and barring people based on their faith or national origin.
"The executive order is simply un-American," he continued, "and undermines our safety and respect around the world for our citizens and government."
“This is not the America we were born into,” Schaffer said. “We will not stand for this; stand up and be counted,” she told the approving crowd. “At the local level, we can make a difference.”
State Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, (D-16th), implored the crowd to galvanize, stay committed and to vote in upcoming elections.
“We are better than that,” Zwicker said, criticizing Trump’s executive orders as well as one of his chief advisors.
“I come from a world where there are no ‘alternative facts,’ Zwicker said jokingly, a reference to Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway’s use of that phrase during a “Meet the Press” interview on Jan. 22 in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's statement about attendance at Trump's inauguration just a few days before.
His comment drew robust applause from the crowd.
Zwicker is a physicist, and Head of Science Education at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
"I work with people from all over the world; we don't judge one another based on religion, ethnicity or country of origin. We judge them based on what kind of scientist they are," he said.
"What I see is a policy that judges people not on their actual risk but simply on their religion and that is unconstitutional, it goes against the very foundations of this country," Zwicker said. I'm all for keeping our country safe, everybody is, of course, but this is not the way to do it," Zwicker added.
“We will always speak out against hatred – everybody is equal,” Zwicker said.
Echoing Schaffer and Zwicker, Franklin Township Mayor Phil Kramer made reference to the lyrics of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” to underline the need for vigilance and protest – “God Bless America, Land That I Love, Stand Beside Her and Guide Her.”
He mentioned past American transgressions – slavery, the annexation of land from native Americans and Japanese internment camps during World War II.
Kramer urged the crowd to vote, to donate, to knock on doors and make phone calls to build support for candidates in upcoming elections that will oppose Trump’s policies.
“We will not stand for this,” he said.