State College

Why do central Pennsylvanians care about immigration reform? Ralliers made their voices loud and clear

Residents attend the Families Belong Together Rally Saturday.
Residents attend the Families Belong Together Rally Saturday. psheehan@centredaily.com

Standing along College Avenue holding a sign that read "Give me your tired, your poor ...," recent State College Area High School graduate Kayla Fatemi gathered with some of her best friends, and several hundred others, to speak out against the Trump administration's immigration policies on Saturday.

"I think immigration is one of the most pressing topics currently in the United States, and as the daughter of an immigrant, it makes me upset to see people look at immigrants in a negative way," she said. "And separating families is the most heinous thing we could be doing as a country."

Fatemi and her friends, Madison Flanders, Grace McDonald and Kenzie Flanders, were gathered at the Allen Street Gates late Saturday afternoon as part of the Families Belong Together rallies that took place across the nation to protest the administration's former policy of separating illegal immigrant families at the border.

Fatemi said she used a quote from Emma Lazarus's poem written on a plaque attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty on her sign because that's what America has always stood for.

"All these people are coming here to find freedom, and that's what our country has always stood for, and now we're turning our backs on the one thing that makes America great," she said.

Fatemi's friends, who said they came along to support her, also expressed disgust in what they described as inhumane border policies, and a desire for America to be welcoming to immigrants.

"We're a county founded on immigrants and for us to turn our backs on them is kind of hypocritical," Kenzie Flanders said.

The nationwide protests that brought out thousands of people were focused on the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy that resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 to end the practice, but it did not end the administration's policy of referring all migrants caught crossing the border for criminal prosecution.

State College's rally brought out about 700 people, who spilled out from in front of the gates onto the road, across the street and down the sidewalk on both sides of the traffic light.

Delta students Lillian Feinberg, Katie Volz and Savannah Niedrmyer were a few of those who came out to show their support.

"I think it's completely unacceptable that children are being separated from their parents. And being a child who is not being separated form their parents, it is my job to stand up and make sure that doesn't happen anymore," Voltz said.

The three 10th-graders said that Saturday's rally was one of several activism activities they've been involved in.

"I think that as a child in America, it's really important to have a voice in what's going on in the world, to stand with people and what they believe in and make sure your voice is heard," Feinberg said.

Niedrmyer added: "What's happening in our country is very wrong and children being separated from their parents is this endless cycle that's happened all throughout history and it's not going to stop unless everyone makes a ruckus. This needs to end because this has been going on forever, and we're immigrants ourselves."

In response to rallies, Trump issued a statement on Twitter.

"When people come into our Country illegally, we must IMMEDIATELY escort them back out without going through years of legal maneuvering. Our laws are the dumbest anywhere in the world. Republicans want Strong Borders and no Crime. Dems want Open Borders and are weak on Crime!" he said.

Those gathered at the gates largely disagreed with the president's statement.

"We're protesting crimes against humanity," Maggie Bloomfield of New York said.

Bloomfield traveled to State College with a group of her friends who all live in Blair County.

"Half of my nuclear family are immigrants, and nobody has the right to take that away from other people," Shamim Rajpar of Altoona said.

The women said they made the trip to State College together as friends who care.

"We're all here also because we're all mothers and grandmothers, and to think about the children who are being disserviced by our country is appalling," Diane Osgood of Hollidaysburg said.

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