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Travel ban, border wall protests outside Rep. Peter King’s Long Island office

Many gathered on Feb. 3, 2017, in front of Rep. Peter King's office in Massapequa Park to voice their opposition to the executive order banning travel from predominantly Muslim countries as well as the president's plan to begin building a wall along the border with Mexico.  Credit: Steve Pfost

Several hundred people chanted for an end to U.S. travel restrictions and called for no border wall at a protest outside the district office of Rep. Peter King in Massapequa Park — capping a week of demonstrations against President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration.

The protesters responded to a call for action “against Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism” from a loose network of immigrant advocates, civil rights groups and progressive groups that organized the event online. They are upset about Trump policies that the administration has said are intended to curtail the terror threat and end illegal immigration.

They chanted “No Ban, No Wall” and “No Hate, No Fear, Immigration Welcome Here” and carried a wide array of signs with messages such as “Love Trumps Hate,” “Proud Great Granddaughter of Immigrants” and “Anti-Muslim is Anti-American.”

By early evening the pro-immigrant group had swelled to about 300 people marching and chanting behind barricades, while about three dozen counter-protesters shouted for border security and more travel restrictions from behind another set of police barriers.

Both sides raised the American flag and chanted “USA!” at different times. Counter-protesters — many of them young men — yelled “Keep us Safe” and “Build The Wall!” Though passionate, the demonstrations remained peaceful.

The travel restrictions are “a very dangerous ban” on Muslims “that is not only unconstitutional but un-American,” said Liuba Grechen Shirley, of Amityville, an organizer of New York Second District Democrats, an online group that called for the protest. “Refugees are not perpetrators of terrorism. They are the victims of terrorism.”

King (R-Seaford) became the focal point of protests because he has supported Trump’s latest executive order, temporarily restricting travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations and suspending refugee programs. Another Trump order seeks a wall to be erected along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In an interview before the demonstration, King told Newsday that the latest executive order “is absolutely necessary” to keep America safe and called the protesters misguided. While he criticized the messy implementation that had Homeland Security officials scrambling to respond and caused many travelers to be detained at U.S. airports, King backs efforts to restrict entry and better vet immigrants, refugees and visitors.

This was “a temporary pause” that is “in no way racist or bigoted” and targets “a hotbed of terrorism,” King said. “I’m working to make sure that all Americans are safe. That is my focus.”

However, protesters described King as an enabler of divisive policies that unfairly single out immigrants, Muslims in particular.

“I find it offensive that they’re trying to keep people out of the country because of beliefs,” said Natasha Rappazzo, 21, a political science and history major at nearby Hofstra University.

Lola Solis, 19, a women’s studies and history major at Hofstra, said the current debate puts the blame for terror on immigrants who come here to work when many terror suspects “are homegrown.”

John Sechko, a Massapequa Park resident who was among counter-protesters, said he was there to back King and Trump, who “are for national security. These people [protesters] are just looking to let anyone come in.”

Gary Rine, a Massapequa Park resident, preferred to watch the whole thing from across the street.

Though a Trump supporter, he says he could agree with the United States taking in women and children as refugees to protect them, but backs more vetting and thinks more men should stay in their countries to fight for freedom.

For just one brief moment, Trump and King supporters joined immigrant advocates when they sang the Star-Spangled Banner, but the shouting resumed shortly after.

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