Carrying an American flag on a pole and wearing a caftan he bought in his travels overseas, Frank Janzen made a statement at Saturday's Lawrence Stands with Refugees gathering at South Park.
“I got this in Somalia,” he said of the caftan. “I’ve been in a lot of Muslim countries. Fifteen years — no problems. They’re nice people.”
The event, which drew about 400 people to the park on a mild winter afternoon, was a show of solidarity with those affected by President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order, which suspended the country’s refugee admission program for 120 days and halted the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely. The order also barred entry of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — all of which are majority-Muslim countries — for 90 days, but prioritized the processing of refugees belonging to religious minorities in those countries. Enforcement of the order was temporarily blocked by a federal judge on Friday.
Janzen said Trump didn’t do his homework before issuing the “misguided and mean-spirited” executive order.
“Trump doesn’t understand the vetting process that is already in place,” he said. “He just tossed things out.”
The suspension of Trump's order was the latest turn in what has been a roller coaster ride of emotions for those in the international community at the University of Kansas and in Lawrence as a whole, said Iesha Kincaid, who helped organize the event alongside the KU Muslim Student Association, the Lawrence Islamic Center and Lacee Roe, a Lawrence district advocate with CARE International.
“This has put so much uncertainty in people’s minds,” Kincaid said. “They try not to get too excited, but (the latest ruling) is good news, and they are appreciative of it.”
Kincaid, a KU alumna, said people affected by the ban needed — and were getting — support from the “big-hearted” Lawrence community. The event was planned as a further demonstration of that solidarity, she said.
Roe, too, emphasized the event’s support for those the executive order affected. The event was not intended as a protest or a demonstration, she said, but rather an informational gathering and social event.
At one of the informational tables set near South Park’s gazebo, Issa Spatrisano, of Jewish Vocational Services in Kansas City, Mo., said that the ban “couldn’t have come at a worse time,” and that refugees are valuable contributors to American society.
The latter was a point Spatrisano made again when she and other speakers addressed the crowd from the park’s gazebo. The JVS helped 589 refugees relocate last year in the Kansas City area, she said, providing everything from transportation from the airport to help finding homes and employment, she said.
Brian Wright, a political science instructor at Johnson County Community College, told the crowd there were an estimated 21 million refugees worldwide, 5.6 million of whom were fleeing the conflict in Syria.
Working a table at the event, international student Zeeshan Ahmed said the executive order ran counter to the welcoming atmosphere he'd seen in the eight years he'd spent at KU, first as an undergraduate in computer science and now as a graduate student in business.
“I never thought I’d see something like this in America,” he said. “I’ve never actually been worried, especially in Lawrence. Everybody has been so friendly to new students here.
“I’m from India. It’s not one of the countries banned, but I don’t think it’s right. Even though it’s not on the list, you wonder if it could be next.”