For Duke grad student Jose Romero, borders exist not only between states and countries, but also “between souls.”
Romero and a crowd of about three hundred Duke students, faculty, and others sought to bridge those divides Tuesday night at a “No Wall, No Ban” rally in front of the university’s towering chapel in protest of the Trump administration’s recent actions related to immigrants and refugees.
“I want to feel the heat from our hands melting that ICE,” he said, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Part of “Resist Trump Tuesday,” a nationwide movement to, well, resist President Trump on Tuesdays, the rally took on Trump’s prohibition of citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the U.S. for ninety days and his pledge to build a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border.
Critics of the travel ban say it will not make America safer, noting it does not apply to any countries from which 9/11 attackers hailed, that more recent attacks have been perpetrated by homegrown terrorists, and that the policy gives groups like ISIS recruitment propaganda. The executive order, signed Friday afternoon, also suspends entry for all refugees for four months and indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from the U.S. The announcement sparked protests at major U.S. airports, including RDU on Sunday, when fifteen hundred people showed up.
(Worth noting: White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who has taken some heat for the executive order’s messy rollout, is a Duke alumni.)
Students, alumni, and faculty took turns at the mic decrying Trump’s rhetoric and America’s legacy of building itself up on the backs of those it oppresses.
“The ugliness didn’t start with Trump, the ugliness won’t end with Trump,” said one Muslim student. “As long as we continue to pretend that the pathologies of this nation can be attributed to one man as opposed to years of oppression, injustice, and violence, I can assure you that this ugliness will never end.”
Chants of “Build bridges, not walls” and “This is what community looks like” rang out from the chapel’s front steps—a poignant location given the school’s lightning-quick reversal, after a backlash led by the likes of Franklin Graham, of a 2015 decision to allow the Muslim call to prayer from the top of the chapel.
Several students also took the opportunity to demand their school throw its biggest weapon into the fight: money. The university has already pledged not to share student records with law enforcement without a subpoena, and while rally organizer Sydney Roberts says that’s “incredibly important,” there’s more the school could do to make students feel safe besides putting out diffusive statements. Allowing Tuesday’s protest—“Creating spaces to mourn and be angry” at a primarily white institution—is a much-appreciated start, she said.
“There are students who now cannot see their family, who can’t go home and see their family because they wouldn’t be able to come back to school,” she said. “That’s horrifying—a very basic ability to see your mom is now taken away from you and the university is like, well, we won’t release your citizenship status.” (The university this weekend issued another statement calling the travel ban “confusing and disturbing.”) She and other students involved in the rally and the Ad Hoc Resist and Support Group that put it together also want Duke’s administration to provide legal advice to students and pay for legal representation for students dealing with citizenship issues.
Asked whether Duke would be willing to pay affected students’ legal fees, vice president for public affairs and government relations Mike Schoenfeld said in an email Wednesday, “The university is in regular contact with students from the affected countries and will continue to work with them to assess their situations.”
In a December statement to students and staff, Duke president Richard Brodhead threw his support behind Dreamers—undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, but said Duke could not become a “sanctuary campus. … No university in America can declare itself immune from the rule of law. However, university campuses are governed by their own communal values and offer the protection of those values to those who live in them. Duke University values its students no matter their background or immigration status, and historical moments like this one offer an opportunity to clarify that commitment. We will continue to create a community that is welcoming and supportive to all.”