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Hundreds of Tucsonans protest Trump order barring travel from Muslim countries

After 10 days in office, President Donald Trump's actions have launched two nationwide protests, including an effort to push back an order signed on Friday that placed a 120-day hold on refugee admissions while indefinitely barring Syrian refugees.

In Tucson, more than 1,200 people gathered Downtown on Tuesday to protest an executive order signed by President Donald Trump suspending refugee admissions and halting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.

The order blocks citizens from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from traveling to the United States.

In Tucson, a three-hour protest began in the late afternoon near the federal building on West Congress Street, where U.S. Sen. John McCain has an office, and soon swelled to cover both sides of the street from Noth Granada Avenue to Manning House Way.

Some demonstrators thanked McCain for his criticism of the travel ban. The Republican senator called it a "self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism," but others wanted their senator to go further and openly challenge Trump's administration.

Some held signs that were explicitly against Trump, while others pushed against his policies, including his executive order directing Homeland Security to begin building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and another order that elevated his chief consigliere Steve Bannon to an unusual position in the National Security Council.

While the new order is widely called a ban, on Tuesday the new Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly pushed back against that term during a press event.

"This is not a travel ban, this is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa vetting system," Kelly said.

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Over the next 30 days, Kelly said department officials would evaluate the strengths and the weaknesses current system, with another 60 days for foreign partners to "cooperate with our national security requirements."

"Furthermore, this is not, I repeat, not, a ban on Muslims," Kelly said.

However, this definition was undercut by the president himself, who said on Saturday, "We're going to have a very, very strict ban."

In front of the federal courthouse in Tucson, with her husband and three children at her side, Enterkhab Al-Saraji held a sign that read "keep families together."

Al-Saraji came to the United States in 2010 from Iraq with her husband and young son, after serving as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Baghdad. The process was difficult and time-consuming, and seemed especially onerous because the couple already had a security clearance to work on the base, she said.

"We risked everything, our lives, our families, everything for the United States. We left everything behind," she said. "The president should stand up for my people, but instead, he has passed this order, for no reason. I don't know why."

Al-Saraji has three children now, two born in the United States, and the new travel restrictions mean that she will likely stay in the U.S. rather than visiting her father who remains in Iraq.

"He's sick, and I want to see him, but I don't want to travel if things are like this. I can't take my children with me, what happens if Iraq won't let them in, what happens if we can't come back. It's too much," she said.

"Trump should be a father to all of us in this country, but he's not being a father to us," she said.

The ban likely affects interpreters and others who have helped U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and affected legal permanent residents and green card holders.

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Maralisa Vingelli, 61, hoisted a sign proclaiming "It's not OK" above her head and laughed that her "sign was perfect for all events." Originally from Finland, where she could "really see Russia from her house," Vingelli said she hoped that march would let people know that the community was against the ban.

With her white hair dyed a subtle shade of pink, Barbara Allen, 73, held a sign that read "Just say no. No ban, no wall."

Nearby, Cynthia Kramer, 72, held her own sign noting the chance that an American would be murdered in an attack by a refugee—1 in 3.6 billion it read—with a map of the seven countries that are included in Trump's ban.

Kramer went to the Women's March held in Washington D.C. on the heels of Trump's inauguration, and said that "this is the time for people to get moving."

"We have to be active to make a difference, we have to rise up and make sure that this democracy stays a democracy," Kramer said.

Ed Davis, 63, called the executive order "awful stuff."

"When he got elected, I knew this immigration ban was coming, but still it's totally against the morality of this nation. We're a melting pot, we're about tolerance and justice," Davis said. "But, this isn't tolerance. And, it's not justice."

Rev. Bob Carney held a yellow sign that read "First they came from the Muslims and we said not today" a reference to German Lutheran pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller, who wrote a poem that highlighted how the Nazi regime focused on different marginalized groups until it finally "came for the Jews."

Carney, 74, said that he had spent much of his life fighting injustice, but that he was heartened because social justice movements, like the protest around him, kept on coming.

"Sure there can be a sense that hopelessness, or dispassion, but when you're among people who side with justice, it becomes never-ending," he said. "We could be doing this for a lifetime because there are so many injustices in the world, but there are people here who can fight for people, for blacks, for Jews, for Muslims, for everyone in the LGBTQ community, anyone who needs protecting."

Even as the protest came to a close, organizers with We The People Tucson were planning a second event for Saturday at El Presidio Plaza Park.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Cynthia Kramer, 72, holds a sign on the north side of Congress Street, as part of an overflow crowd of more than 200 taking part in a protest of more than 1,000 Tucsonans against an executive order signed by President Trump barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States for the next 120 days.