'Refugees Are Welcome Here’: Jacksonville Protesters Speak Against Trump Order

Jan 31, 2017

Hundreds of people protested Tuesday in front of the Duval County Courthouse before marching to City Hall.

The “no human is illegal” protesters rallied against President Trump’s order to temporarily ban travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.


Around 4 p.m., protesters started gathering with signs with messages like  “We love our refugees” and “No Muslim ban.”

Laura Heffernan was at the protest with her 3-and-a-half year-old son. He was holding a sign that read “Great, great grandson of immigrants" on one side and "I like dinosaurs and deliberative democracy" on the other side.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

Organizers of the event, the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, led chants including “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.”

Laura Heffernan was at the protest with her 3-and-a-half year-old son. He was holding a sign that read “Great, great grandson of immigrants,” with a photo of his great-grandparents pasted on it. Heffernan said they came to the U.S. from Ireland in the early part of the 20th Century.

“Any time the country allows fear and xenophobia to dominate, we all lose in the end,” Heffernan said.

She said she believes Trump’s orders are directed toward Muslims.

Trump’s order suspends new refugee admissions for 120 days, blocks travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Hundreds of people protested Tuesday in front of the Duval County Courthouse before marching to City Hall.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

“I just I can’t imagine what they’re going through,” said a Syrian-American Muslim woman at the rally. She asked to remain anonymous because so many of her family members are still in Syria and her interview could put them in danger.

“People could be targeted for just having the same last name as mine,” she said.

She’s said she’s been traveling back and forth from the U.S. to Syria her whole life, and she came to the protest partly because she’s worried about Syrian refugees.

“To deprive them from freedom, to deprive them to have a better life for themselves,that stands against what America is,” she said.

Nearby, a group of immigration lawyers held heart-shaped balloons with “Refugees are welcome” spelled out in permanent marker.

Hundreds of people protested Tuesday in front of the Duval County Courthouse before marching to City Hall.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

They said they’ve been on calls and researching all weekend to figure out how the order could affect their clients.

Professor Ericka Curran directs the Immigrant and Human Rights Clinic at Florida Coastal School of Law. It offers free legal representation to children seeking asylum and victims of violent crime.

Curran describes the vetting process for immigrants and refugees as extreme.

“Most of the clients that we serve talk about multiple interviews, years waiting to get into the U.S. So it just doesn’t seem like [the travel ban] is going to make anyone any safer,” Curran said.

She said the order directly affects some of her clients. Florida Coastal has an annual citizenship event in April to help refugees and immigrants apply to naturalize.

“At this point, people from the seven countries, we’re concerned their applications will not be processed,” she said. “That’s a lot of refugees in Jacksonville.”

A handful of counter-protesters held Donald Trump campaign signs across from the demonstration.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.