RICHMOND – With a spirited demonstration and an online petition, opponents of President Donald Trump are urging Richmond to designate itself as a "sanctuary city" for immigrants.
About 300 protesters gathered outside the Federal Courthouse on Monday night to send that message.
"We are here to defy the white supremacist regime that is in the White House," said Justice Valentine, one of the organizers. The rally was called ICE Out of RVA – a reference to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
"To me, a sanctuary city looks like communities forging their own livelihood and deciding what safety and security looks like for them," Valentine said.
A sanctuary city is also a place without prisons so people are not locked up unconstitutionally or for reasons rooted in stereotypes based on a person's skin color or socioeconomic class, Valentine said.
Protesters are circulating an online petition to present to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney at City Hall next Monday.
"Tell our mayor and city council to stand up to Trump and take action that doesn't just symbolically defend immigrants, but transforms our city's policies to stop targeting us for imprisonment, risk of removal and state violence at the hands of police and aggressive immigration agents," the petition states. As of Tuesday morning, it had garnered almost 1,000 signatures.
Last week, Trump issued an executive order to cut federal funding to cities that have declared themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants.
The demonstrators also criticized Trump's order banning people traveling from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Trump said his action will keep Americans safe from terrorists; the protesters disagreed.
On a 10-year average, the number of Americans killed annually by Islamic jihadist immigrants is two, compared to 737 killed by falling out of bed, said Nora Ramadan, who spoke at the rally.
"People from Yemen, Sudan, Iran and Middle Eastern countries are not our enemies," Ramadan said. "You can't possibly go with the mindset that these people are terrorists."
Many people at the two-hour rally carried signs, while several cars drove by honking their horns and cheering out the window to offer their support. Between speakers, the demonstrators joined in chanting:
"No borders. No walls. Trump has got to go."
"Tell me what democracy looks like…" "This is what democracy looks like."
"No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here."
One of the speakers was Antonio Espinoza, an associate professor of Latin American studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"I am not here officially for VCU, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that many of my colleagues and me are extremely concerned," Espinoza said.
He said he is particularly concerned for young people who have been protected from deportation under former President Barack Obama's order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Trump has said he would revoke the DACA policy.
The rally called for action not only by Richmond city government but also by the Virginia General Assembly.
The demonstrators planned to attend a legislative Tuesday to offer support for HR 303, introduced by Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington. The resolution states, "Resolved, that the House of Delegates hereby denounce the intimidation of the Commonwealth's residents, affirm the commitment to diversity, and safeguard the civil rights and dignity of all Virginians."
Organizers thanked Lopez and Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, for attending Monday's rally not to speak but to listen.
The protesters oppose several bills before the General Assembly. They include:
•SB 1262, introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun County. It would make sanctuary cities liable for injury to a person or damage to property "caused by an illegal alien."
•HB 2002, filed by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County. The bill would require nonprofit resettlement agencies to tell state authorities about the refugees and immigrants they help settle in Virginia. The agencies would have to report the age, gender and country of origin of each individual they assist and identify the locality where the individual was placed.
During the rally, the news broke that acting Attorney General Sally Yates had instructed the Justice Department's lawyers not to defend Trump's immigration executive order. The news was met with roaring cheers and applause from the crowd. Trump immediately fired Yates.