Hundreds of area residents came to Durham Central Park on a cool spring afternoon to honor immigrants living in Durham.
The city’s first Durham Refugee Day stands in sharp contrast to the response of a distressing number of Americans to the nation’s immigrant community. It came amid, among other things, a move by the Texas governor to retaliation against “sanctuary cities,” where law enforcement and other agencies prefer to protect immigrant communities and their members rather than to harass and deport them.
Durham’s day to celebrate our immigrant neighbors and the cultures they represent -- and with which they enrich us daily -- was hardly a new stance. Our city embraces its diversity and often adopts a cheerful tolerance at odds with many other communities in the state.
In October 2015, for example, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of resettling Syrian refugees in Durham. Weeks later, after Gov. Pat McCrory joined 26 other governors in signing asking President Barack Obama to cease the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees until background checks were tightened, the council reaffirmed its resolution.
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“The principle of protecting refugees is a core part of this country’s identity as a nation committed to freedom,” the 2015 resolution said, noting that “the refugees in the program are all registered with the United Nations and cannot return to Syria because of a well-founded fear of persecution...”
More recently, the council drafted an open letter to “the people of the City of Durham” shortly after Donald Trump’s election as president that “reaffirms it support for protecting and advancing the constitutional rights and equitable treatment of all its residents.” In the letter, the council said it “reaffirms the value of a pluralistic society, the beauty of a culture composed of multiple cultures.”
In January, the council in opposing Trump’s executive order (later blocked by the courts) banning immigrants and refugees from seven mostly Muslim countries, reiterated a belief that “Durham’s immigrant and refugee communities are integral to the life of our city.”
The city held Saturday’s refugee day in conjunction with Church World Service and World Relief, resettlement agencies active here. Ellen Andrews, director of Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Office, echoed the council’s repeated statements. The event was “a show of welcome and solidarity for refugees resettling to Durham from other countries and also other immigrant neighbors from around the world,” she said.
Mayor Bill Bell at the Saturday event called Durham “a very welcome and caring community.” We’re proud to be a city that fits that uplifting description.