Lutheran Church holds vigil for refugees in response to federal ‘travel ban’

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Various speakers, pastor, and philanthropy members address a crowd of more than 300 people at First English Lutheran Church on Monday evening. The group spoke about ongoing plans to raise money and volunteer in the effort to help refugees during the Interfaith Community Vigil. 

Photo Credit: Briana Vargas | Daily Texan Staff

Despite only living in the U.S. for the past eight months, Basima Hawasli, a senior at Harmony Science Academy, said she is thankful for Americans who support her after she fled from her war-stricken homeland of Syria.

“I’m so thankful for American people for everything,” Hawasli said. 

More than 300 people filled the aisles and lined the side walls of the crowded First English Lutheran Church for a vigil for refugees Monday evening. A temporary ban signed on Friday by President Donald Trump, barring refugees from seven Middle Eastern countries, brought local and immigrant families out to the sacred space.

Pastors and philanthropy members thanked the crowd for their support and informed them about ongoing plans to raise money and volunteer in the effort to help refugees. A mix of religious groups said their doors are wide open for refugees regardless of their faith.

The GirlForward program recruited displaced girls like Hawasli and teaches them life and career skills, such as learning English.

GirlForward founder Blair Brettschneider said the program began in Chicago and has now branched out to Austin.

On Friday, Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network he would give preference for Christian refugees, which Brettschneider said is unjust.

“We know that Christians are not the only people who face religious persecution,” Brettschneider said. “Persecution — religious, political or otherwise — is the very reason our girls, our neighbors from Syria, Iraq, Sudan and elsewhere, fled their homes. It’s not an acceptable policy of a country that stands for freedom.”

A woman in a corner held a sign with biblical passage Exodus 22:21, which said, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Biology freshman Laila Burghul was standing in line outside with her two friends, who were also Muslim, and said Trump’s ban reminded her the conflict her grandparents faced as refugees from Palestine.

“It feels like we’re going back in time,” Burghul said. “It’s just weird seeing this kind of thing again like shutting refugees out.”

Business freshman Omama Qureshi said her family is from Pakistan and is worried it may be a country that would be affected by the ban as well.

“I do know my uncle was thinking about applying for citizenship to come here, and we’re afraid he can’t,” Qureshi said.

Public health freshman Ushna Ahmad said she has seen how Trump’s orders have troubled fellow Muslims and Trump supporters. 

“I have a lot of friends and distant family members who are also affected by this,” Ahmad said. “Even though it may not be affecting me, just because of my religion, it does make an impact. I’ve heard of a lot of people saying they regret their decision of voting for him.”

Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail of Nueces Mosque near campus said the overflow of people outside and around the church was promising.

“We’re taking it a step at a time,” Esmail said. “It’s just so uplifiting to see so many people show up on such short notice. It’s just wonderful to see the humongous amount of support.”