Eugene supports its immigrant community
University of Oregon student Haytham Abo-Adel spoke to a crowd of about 2,000 people in front of the Eugene Federal Courthouse on Jan. 29. He immigrated to Eugene five years ago.
He spoke to a passionate community rallying against President Donald Trump’s latest executive order that temporarily bars entry to the U.S. for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Yemen, where Abo-Adel is from.
Similar to most UO students, Abo-Adel walks through the Fishbowl, down University Street and past the Knight library for class. What’s different for him, though, is he doesn’t know if he can ever make a trip home and come back.
Abo-Adel’s parents still live in Yemen, while his two children and wife are in Eugene. Abo-Adel wants his parents to meet their grandchildren, but with Trump’s executive order making the future of immigration unclear, he’s not sure if that will ever happen.
This is the case for thousands of immigrants from the countries Trump has deemed a threat to the United States, and for 39 UO students specifically.
The University of Oregon released a statement advising that these students remain in the U.S. for the time being, as their re-admittance isn’t certain.
Members of the Eugene community united against Trump’s policies on Sunday in support of the community members and students being affected. The event was planned in less than 24 hours.
“I would love to have my family here,” Abo-Adel spoke through a megaphone. “To see the love that is given by Eugenians, by Oregonians and by the American people.”
The crowd erupted with claps and cheers as Abo-Adel spoke.
“I am not here to kill you; I am here to love you,” he said. “I am not standing here because of weakness. I get the strength from you.”
Awab Al-Rawe, a graduate student from Iraq studying conflict and dispute resolution, stood among the crowd. He nodded and smiled as people chanted.
Al-Rawe lived in Baghdad for most of his life, but moved to Syria as a refugee when war broke out in 2003. He’s been studying at UO for seven years on a student work visa.
In that time period, he hasn’t seen his dad in person, who still lives in Iraq and hasn’t been permitted a travel visa to visit. Al-Rawe still talks to his dad every weekend. Before the immigration ban, he had a little bit of hope that his dad might be able to see him receive his master’s degree in June.
Al-Rawe said that he now has no idea when he will see him again.
He said that this contributes to his mixed views about the rallies and support for him and other people in similar situations.
“I was kind of conflicted in thinking that [the rally] was amazing. [It] was very hopeful and positive, but at the same time, will that stop me from being sent away, if it comes to that point?”
As of right now, Al-Rawe can stay in the U.S. for one year after graduating as part of the Optional Practical Training program, which gives student immigrants time to find work after graduating from college.
Al-Rawe said he worries that the program may be revoked under Trump’s leadership.
He said he still finds comfort in the support of the Eugene community during this unpredictable time, adding that moving to Eugene was one of the best decisions he ever made.
“I feel like this is my second home, or even my primary home at this point,” he said. “[I’ve] succeeded in every way that I wanted to succeed in, and that is just setting up an example of how refugees don’t necessarily have to be a burden on society. They can contribute. They can make growth and development in their own community and that’s my goal for Eugene, Oregon.”
Trump’s executive order blocks travel from Iraq, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Syria for the next 90 days. In addition, the order suspends all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days and suspends Syrian refugees from entry indefinitely.
This has provoked a sense of uncertainty among members of the Eugene and UO community.
President of the Muslim Student Association Drew Williams said many of the organization’s members are directly affected, and not sure what to do next.
“A lot of people have concerns about it — what comes next, where their families are,” he said.
The statement released from The University of Oregon highlighted President Schill’s response to Trump’s orders.
“We are troubled by the decision of the new U.S. administration to begin a process of closing our borders,” the statement said from UO President Michael Schill and Provost Scott Coltrane. “Many are concerned for our fellow students, faculty members, and staff members from the targeted countries.”
UO professor Shaul Cohen hopes the university and other community members continue to show support for the people from Muslim countries.
“I have students who are seriously scared about what’s going on,” he said. “And want to figure out how to act with the best American values.”
To show his support, he joined Take Action Eugene, a group that formed recently. Members take action and seek support from elected officials to fund projects that promote inclusivity, according to the organization’s website.
Shaul said TAE organized the rally on Sunday in response to Americans protesting against the immigration ban at airports, where legal immigrants were being detained.
Shaul said he only expected about 150 people to come to the event. Although a small portion of people placed pictures of swastikas with text reading “Say no to immigration” prior to the event, Shaul said he didn’t notice any of those sentiments.
“I love that the rally was nothing about that energy,” he said. “It was just ignored.”
The Center for Multicultural Excellence and the Office of International Affairs will hold a town hall meeting Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the EMU ballroom. The meeting is designed to address the concerns of community members, including international students and undocumented immigrants.
Williams said that the Muslim Student Association will likely be discussing recent events in its next meeting, such as strategies that students can take for themselves and their families.
“Hope for the best,” said Williams. “Pray that nothing gets worse.”
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