President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration were the focus of a panel discussion at the Manual Career Technical Center in Kansas City, Missouri Saturday. More than 700 people, the majority of whom appeared to be supporters and friends of immigrants, packed the auditorium to ask questions about the government's restrictive immigration policies.
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City), who organized the forum, reminded the audience that "everybody in this room is an immigrant" and encouraged people to resist the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration.
“Our job is to make sure that the President of the United States understands where we stand!” he said, to a loud round of applause.
The Congressman was pessimistic about any prospect that Mr. Trump might change some of his campaign pledges concerning further restrictions on immigrants.
“President Donald Trump said over and over and over again during his campaign, and since, that he intended to repeal DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals]," said Cleaver. "I have seen nor heard nothing that would cause me to believe that he would renege on this promise.”
There were a couple of impromptu interruptions. One man booed during the opening talk by Cleaver before being shouted down by other members of the audience. Later, a small group supporting undocumented migrants, shouted out a list of complaints.
The panel included the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and Jewish Vocational Services.
Steven Weitkamp, director of refugee programs at Jewish Vocational Services, told the gathering that the Trump administration's approach to immigration was in keeping with American traditions.
“I tell people that, you want to know what’s as American as apple pie? Xenophobia. And it rears its head almost every generation," said Weitkamp.
Audience members and panelists spoke about how the executive orders have caused widespread fear and confusion among immigrant communities.
Edwin Sagastume, from Legal Aid of Western Missouri, said immigrants from countries that are not impacted by the bans are fearful that they might be next.
“We’ve even had people who are residents but they’re in fear of naturalizing because they don’t know if they should or not, because of what’s going on," said Sagastume.
Sara Baker, from the Missouri branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said there’s a lot of confusion about the impact of the executive orders and the federal court ban blocking them.
“We know that we have a nationwide ban guaranteed by federal judges," said Baker, "But we don’t know what will happen to those people that were processed before the ban went into effect, we’re still trying to figure that out.”
The forum's purpose was to focus on questions from the audience that were written out on cards and relayed to the panel by moderator Nick Haines from Kansas City Public Television (KCPT). Haines said many questions concerned how Kansas City might become a safe haven, or what's known as a 'sanctuary city' for migrants. The panel wasn't able to explain how that could happen or what specific protections a 'sanctuary city' might offer.
However, audience members were very supportive of migrants.
“We’re just here to show support for immigrant families in Kansas City and make our voice heard," said Andre Bonnet, who attended the forum with his wife and two small children.
There was also a strong sense of concern about the future. “I think that overall there’s fear in the community as to what’s going to happen, there’s uncertainty," said Juan Sarmiento, who has friends and family affected by the executive orders.
Danny Wood is KCUR's weekend reporter.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained misspellings of the names of several individuals.