San Juan County reacts to refugee travel ban
San Juan County 9-12 Project organizes rally to support President Donald Trump days after he signs executive order barring citizens from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering U.S.
FARMINGTON — A small group of San Juan County residents gathered today in front of the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park in support of President Donald Trump's policies, including a temporary immigration ban that affects citizens of seven countries with predominantly Muslim populations.
Trump on Friday issued an executive order calling for a 90-day ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who try to enter the U.S. He also put a 120-day ban on refugees and an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees immigrating to the U.S. This ban has led to protests at airports across the county and backlash from politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Protests in response to Trump's executive order, as well as other anti-Trump demonstrations around the country, led Tara Lee Swenk, a board member of the San Juan County 9-12 Project, to organize a rally in Farmington in support of the president.
"We need to be more safe," she said. "We need to put America first."
That sentiment was echoed by the half dozen people who attended the rally.
"President Trump is a president for all people. ... He's for everyone and he wants to protect everyone," said Ivy Kauth, who attended the rally.
Others said the immigration ban symbolizes the president putting "America first."
"Americans need to be first in front of immigrants," said Virginia Hatchett. "Especially if (the immigrants are) dangerous or could be dangerous."
But some Democratic lawmakers attended a conference in Washington, D.C., this evening to denounce Trump's executive order. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, was among them.
"President Trump's anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant executive order is shameful, and it is an affront to our history and our values," Udall said in a statement on Sunday. "Beyond its moral repugnance, I believe there are serious constitutional problems with this new Trump policy. ... This order not only betrays who we are as nation, but it will make us less safe — fueling anti-American sentiment and potentially inspiring violence."
M.P. Schildmeyer, vice-president of the San Juan County Democratic Party, expressed concerns about the ban when reached by phone today. She said the ban escalates existing tensions around immigration. She said Trump favors an immigration policy that tears apart families and turns the police into a deportation force.
Schildmeyer said she has no concerns about Syrian refugees or other Muslim immigrants entering the country because "I know that these people are being vetted and I know the vast majority of these people are peace-loving people."
Anne Frost, who attended the pro-Trump rally at the museum, said she was elated when she heard the news about the executive order.
"We have to put America first or we won't be America," she said.
Swenk, who said she grew up in Morocco, said she was taught that America is a melting pot, and immigrants give up their culture to adopt American culture. That culture, she said, includes saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem, as well as accepting Christian traditions such as saying "Merry Christmas."
She said if Muslims want the right to pray in schools then Christians should also be allowed to pray in school.
"I would not want to see them wear their burkas or their (hijab) or whatever or hide their face," Swenk said.
Melinda Roberts, pastor of New Covenant United Methodist Church, said the attitude that Muslim immigrants threaten American culture is hypocritical because the country was founded by immigrants searching for religious freedom.
"The threat to our American culture is forgetting what we were founded upon," she said when reached by phone today.
Bruce Higgins, president of the San Juan County 9-12 Project, said he is concerned about Muslim immigrants because of extremism in Europe and violence in the Middle East. He said Muslims believe Christians are infidels and Islam encourages killing infidels. However, many followers of the faith and scholars say that is a misreading of the teachings of Islam, shared by critics and jihadists alike.
In his executive order, Trump cited concerns about terrorist attacks and a need for a stricter process for screening immigrants and refugees entering the U.S.
Higgins cited the Orlando nightclub shooting in June as evidence of the threat posed by Muslims.
Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people and wounded many more in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub, was born in New York to Afghan parents. During the standoff with police, Mateen called 911 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, according to The Associated Press.
"If it were me, I would have put a ban on Saudi (Arabia) as well," Higgins said.
Roberts cautioned against stereotyping all Muslims or Christians based on the actions of a few.
"You can't judge all Muslims by the acts of a few," she said. "Don't judge all Christians by the acts of some in power who are claiming that name."
Roberts said that at community meetings after the election, she has heard people discuss concerns about "the normalizing of hate." He said there are still places in the U.S. that serve as a refuge for immigrants and refugees.
"We are still a country of people who welcome the stranger," she said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.