American Immigration Council focuses on values amid protests

The organization was one of many that got straight to work after President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

An immigration protest in Boston. (Image via CAIR's Facebook page).
An immigration protest in Boston. (Image via CAIR's Facebook page).

NEW YORK: In the hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending the Syrian refugee-resettlement program, protesters took to the streets and immigration lawyers began working pro bono at airports.

Groups such as the American Immigration Council quickly jumpstarted their communications plans in support of immigrants. Shortly after Trump signed the executive order, several immigration organizations issued a statement denouncing the action. They also began working alongside both local and national partners that organize protests, provide information to lawyers, and advocate for immigrants.

Wendy Feliz, communications director at the American Immigration Council, said her group is focusing its message on values. She is reminding people that the U.S. is a nation built by immigrants and people fleeing persecution.

"We need a massive national effort of messaging and reframing the issue," Feliz said. "Not to trick people, but to remind people we are a nation of immigrants. We can all trace our ancestry back to one industrious person who immigrated here."

During the presidential campaign, Trump often called immigrants criminals or job stealers, creating a "mob at the gates" narrative that the immigration community is trying to reframe, she added.  

Its next step is finding spokespeople for its cause, Feliz explained. The ban stranded some green-card holders at airports for hours while others were not allowed to board planes in other countries, despite having a valid visa to come to the U.S.

Feliz’s team is looking for people who were affected by the executive order to tell their story, especially those abroad who have visas or have waited for visas and who have been barred from the country, as well as refugees already in the U.S.

"We’re trying to develop spokespeople and individuals to say, ‘I've been waiting for a visa for 10 years and now I can’t come here,’" Feliz explained. "There are lots of people waiting a long time and in an orderly way, but can’t come here because they’re from one of these countries. We want to cultivate the many refugees already here who can talk about what they left behind and how happy they are to be here."

Protests took place in about 40 cities this weekend. NBC has estimated there were about 12,000 demonstrators in New York and 7,000 in Los Angeles. Other estimates claimed 15,000 took part in a Boston immigration protest.

She contended the community of immigration organizations works together like a "well-oiled machine" in a situation like this.

"The immigration ecosystem is pretty big, and we have groups working on a grassroots level and at the grass-tops level," Feliz said. "From a communications perspective, we all get together and align our messages." 

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