University of Kentucky junior Ranym Nenneh was in her hometown of Damascus, Syria, over winter break. Not long after she returned to the United States on her student visa, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning all Syrians and six other countries from entering the country for three months.
She’s one of the lucky ones, she said, but the immigration ban, which also banned all refugees for four months, spurred her to organize a protest march Thursday at UK. (Later Thursday, a panel of three federal judges denied the federal government’s efforts to toss out an order that halted the president’s travel ban, sending the case back to the Seattle judge who issued a temporary restraining order last Friday.)
“We’re hoping to get our voices heard in the UK community and the Lexington community,” said Nenneh, who was holding a sign that said “Veto the Cheeto.”
About 100 people, mostly students and some professors, heeded Nenneh’s call despite the frigid temperatures, and wound their way through central campus chanting slogans, such as “Love not hate makes America great.”
Camella Watts, a freshman from Madison County, joined in because “I don’t think it’s right to keep people out of this country for race or religion,” she said.
Aylin Bueno of Lexington is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who said she’s taken Trump’s disparaging comments about Mexicans personally.
“I don’t like it at all,” she said. “Most of my friends are minorities so they don’t like what Trump is saying. We’re not bad people, we all want the same thing: we want peace and to get along.”
Another marcher, Carine Malekera, came to Lexington when she was eight as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I feel the current administration is closing our borders to the people who need it most,” she said. “They’re not coming for convenience, they’re desperately in need.”
The march was part of a nationwide event called Academics United — No to Visa and Immigration Ban, with similar marches at more than 50 schools, including Harvard, Virginia Tech and the University of Texas.
Because academia has so many students and scholars from other countries, protesting the ban has been important, said Robert Grossman, one of UK’s faculty trustees. Organizations such as the American Association of University Professors have started petitions against the ban. The AAUP petition has nearly 12,000 signatures.
“We benefit enormously from both students who come from other countries and the people who we hire to be faculty and staff,” Grossman said.
Immigrants have brought intellectual capital and revenue to every area of the United States, and many places in rural areas, including Kentucky, would have no medical care without doctors from other countries, he said.
A communitywide rally against the ban and in support of immigrants was held in downtown Lexington on Feb. 5.