Several hundred people gathered in Anchorage's Town Square on Friday for an interfaith vigil to support immigrants and refugees. Leaders from several Anchorage faith groups spoke at the event, organized by Catholic Social Services. Executive director Lisa Aquino said the event was in response to an executive order from President Donald Trump that halted refugee resettlement for four months and restricted U.S. travel for people from seven Muslim nations.
Catholic Social Services operates the state's only refugee resettlement program. Aquino said that the order also affected the refugee community that is already living in Anchorage.
"What's also happened with this executive order is there's just a lot of misunderstanding and questions, and with that, kind of fear," Aquino said. Before the event began, news began to spread that a federal judge in Seattle had put a nationwide block on the executive order, though it wasn't clear how that would affect Alaska's Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services program, Aquino said.
While there have been many demonstrations nationwide in the last couple weeks, Aquino said she hoped this event would maintain a positive tone.
"You don't have to be political here," she said of the event.
Dr. Youssef Barbour, a liver specialist at the Alaska Native Medical Center and a representative of the Islamic Community Center Anchorage Alaska, told the audience he wished they could all one day visit Syria, the country of his birth. Barbour said Syria historically has been a country that took in and welcomed refugees from various places.
Barbour said the sight of hundreds gathered in Town Square was heartwarming.
"There is such and uproar about the principles that make this country great. That is, to protect the weak, to protect the refugees, and to stand up and make the voice loud," Barbour said. "Because once this voice is loud, about love, about sharing, about caring, I don't think any other message can stand against it."