Battery Park Jewish rally for refugees: De Blasio, other city officials speak out

Protesters brave the rain as they gather in lower Manhattan's Battery Park to attend a rally in support of refugees on Feb. 12, 2017.
Protesters brave the rain as they gather in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park to attend a rally in support of refugees on Feb. 12, 2017. Photo Credit: iStock

City officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, were among hundreds of protesters who braved the rain on Sunday to attend a rally in support of refugees in lower Manhattan.

“No freezing rain is going to stop us from fighting for justice,” de Blasio said.

The rally, organized by the Jewish nonprofit HIAS, began at 11 a.m. in Battery Park, with the Statue of Liberty as its backdrop. Protesters huddled around umbrellas while holding signs that referenced the Holocaust.

“We are raising a clear voice that we are standing with refugees. We are standing with all communities,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, vice president of community engagement at HIAS.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison also spoke out in support of the rally, which was organized in reaction to President Donald Trump’s actions against refugees.

“We have HIAS’ back 1 million percent,” Brewer said to the crowd. “We are not going to give up as New Yorkers, as people who care about refugees and immigrants and who understand what a real America is all about.”

Stringer agreed, adding, “To our refugees, we say come one, come all. And we say to Donald Trump, get out of the way.”

Umbrellas stretched from Castle Clinton to halfway to the park entrance, with freezing crowds standing strong for more than two hours.

Fran Lamster, 65, drove from Greenwich, Conn., to rally with her husband. “I was amazed at the turnout,” she said. “If we don’t stand up, who will?”

Her husband, Fredrick Lamster, 62, said the rally was the first protest he had attended in 45 years. “I feel stronger now, more than ever,” he said.

Sana Mustafa, a Syrian refugee and recent Bard College graduate, said she was both honored and “actually empowered” to see nearly 500 demonstrators in attendance.

“Stopping the war in Syria is the very first solution to stopping the refugees from coming here,” she said. “No one wants to leave home. Believe me, we don’t want to leave home … The moment we leave the border, our pain is greater.”

Mustafa has been working in America for the past three years in the hopes of reuniting her family.

“I’m not a terrorist. I am a refugee and I’m not a terrorist,” she said.

Trump late last month had signed an executive order that suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and banned the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely. The order was soon blocked by a federal judge and an appeals court upheld the suspension on Feb. 9. Trump, however, has said he is considering a new executive order on immigration.

“We know he’s going to rewrite the ban and he still wants to make the country worse for refugees,” said Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS. “We have to fight it every step of the way. There would be no American Jewish community without America letting in refugees.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the president of HIAS. He is Mark Hetfield.