On Tuesday, February 14, lawyers, Yemeni grandmothers, neighborhood allies, and other community members gathered at our Brooklyn office to take a stand against hate and learn more about navigating the current political climate. In response to the recent events sowing anxiety and fear in the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian immigrant communities, the Arab-American Family Support Center hosted this Emergency Town Hall meeting to discuss immigration policies and educate community members on their rights.
After remarks made by representatives on behalf of elected officials standing in solidarity with our communities, the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) Project at the CUNY School of Law delivered a workshop on individuals’ rights while traveling. Samer Khalaf, an attorney and the National President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, closed the evening with a presentation on the expected future stages of Mr. Trump’s Executive Orders. All presentations were accompanied with Arabic translation from our talented Queens Operations Manager, Ahmed Mohammed, to ensure everyone present felt welcomed and could fully participate.
Saif Shumman, a 10-year-old student in our youth program, was the youngest member of the audience that night. Saif is no stranger to community advocacy—last fall, he spoke at City Hall about his experience being bullied on the basis of his ethnicity.
Read on to learn more about our Town Hall and Saif’s take on the current climate:
AAFSC: What inspired you to go to the Town Hall?
Saif: This was the first one I attended but I’ve heard of other ones. I went to this one to support my community and stand up for what’s right. I don’t think that [the recent Executive Orders] are right. President Trump is discriminating against Muslims and Muslim countries and Mexicans.
How did it feel to be the youngest person in the room?
It felt kind of weird because I was surrounded by adults, but I felt welcomed.
What was discussed?
We actually didn’t talk that much about Mr. Trump’s Executive Order, but we talked mostly about what to do at the airport if we’re being racially profiled, and what documents to bring—like to not talk to [the TSA or the police] unless you have a lawyer present, and how you can refuse to speak with them about some things. And also how you can refuse to give them your password, or how if they ask you to take off your headscarf, you don’t have to do that.
What were some things you learned that were surprising?
What was surprising was that there are so many things [border agents ask] that they make you think you have to answer –it’s kind of absurd to me. So like asking where you live is probably normal but asking your religion is weird. We learned you don’t have to answer that. But it’s kind of weird they ask you for your immigration status, because they already know that from like your passport. Just like stuff to scare people.
Have you had that experience at the airport?
No, but now I know for the future.
Why do you think these town halls are important?
Not all immigrants know their rights on what things they have to answer or not have to answer. A lot of them just came to this country and might be confused if what [the border agents are] asking is normal, because they’re not from the country so they might be confused and just tell them. They might just think that’s the way things are here.
What are some more things we could do to resist the discrimination coming from the White House and spreading around the country?
Well I think we need to all collaborate together and not just go against each other. All of the communities together. We are all being affected by it, and if we come together we are stronger. We need to come together and help each other because we are all going through the same thing.
How are you planning to support the community?
Honestly I just think that if everyone protests and does what’s right, that will help enough.
Did you go to the Yemeni bodega-workers’ protest? Have you been to other events related to these issues?
I didn’t go [to the bodega strike protest], but my sisters did. I think it was very helpful and very good to see that because, especially, because there were so many people and it was spread it out WorldStar and CNN. One of the things that I liked was seeing my friends being there supporting the community. Another thing I liked was when [the news] showed people [Muslims] praying, like showing them that we are peaceful and not like harmful.
I went to a protest in front of the Trump tower. I went with my mom after the election. I felt good to be there, supporting my community.
Have the recent events impacted what you want to be when you grow up?
Yes, because [being involved] boosts my confidence and I feel like I’m not alone if I need help. Going to events I see people who go through the same thing as me. It makes me want to go to protests more and town halls.
This event was co-sponsored by the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) Project at the CUNY School of Law, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the National Network for Arab-American Communities, Take on Hate, and the Coalition for Asian American Families and Children. Our co-sponsors also included the following elected officials: NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, State Senator Daniel Squadron, State Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, City Council Member Rafael Espinal, City Council Member Stephen Levin, City Council Member Mark Treyger, and the event was held in cooperation with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.