The hundreds that had gathered Sunday afternoon at Ybor City's Centennial Park had done so on short notice. They sought to show their disapproval of President Donald Trump's orders blocking travel from certain countries that happen to be predominantly Muslim (though not all majority-Muslim countries, or even ones from which terrorists have hailed in recent years) and indefinitely blocking refugees from war-torn Syria.
For Sumayya Saleh, protesting the moves was a crucial way to call into question their legality as well as to fight the sense of helplessness that has been pervasive in her daily life in recent weeks.
“For the past week, every morning I wake up and there's just this overwhelming sense of helplessness — from the first day that Trump took office, and then increasingly so since we've seen the reality of what he's actually doing," she said. "And I think that as the American people we have to stand up and fight back and we will prevail because the law is on our side.”
For Saleh and others, the ramifications of the travel ban go beyond some symbolic threat to tenets on which the country has stood—welcoming those in need, fighting persecution. For their families, the consequences of the ban are quite concrete.
“I have family members in the U.S. that are green card holders that are now afraid to leave the country for fear of not being able to come back in, family members that are green card holders that are outside the country, that are now unable to come back,” she said.
Some local elected officials joined the protest, telling the crowd through a bullhorn that Tampa wouldn't be the city it is without immigrants helping shape the culture, and that the city will continue to embrace that.
“We are built by immigrants," said Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, whose mother and grandmother fled Castro's Cuba and whose father came to the U.S. from Italy. "Think about what's written at the base of the Statue of Liberty...this is what America is about. We are built by the hands of immigrants, with the sacrifices of the people that came here with nothing, and built themselves up, chasing the American dream, living the lifestyle that they do today. And with what's happening now, thank God we have the First Amendment and we can assemble here...at least for now.”
He assured the crowd that he and the two other council members who showed up—Councilwoman Yvonne "Yolie" Capin and Councilman Luis Viera—were going to support those who stand up to the Trump Administration's anti-immigrant policies.
“The members of the city council that are here stand with you and we can't stop fighting And we have to keep moving forward because it's scary, what's happening.”
State Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat who will head to this year's legislative session as a member of the vastly outnumbered minority party to battle an emboldened Republican governor and legislature that might itself try to pass anti-immigrant legislation.
“This is the greatest struggle of our time,” Shaw said. “We've given him enough chances, haven't we? He's shown us what he is. He's a bully. He's a racist. He is an Islamaphobe. He's a hypocrite and he's bad for our country. The way that we fight is what we're doing here. We have to continue to do this.”
Immigration lawyer Floyd Huntz, who is on staff at the Council on Islamic-American relations (CAIR), said the orders have too many legal issues to be held up for long—even if the Trump Administration says it does not ostensibly ban Muslims.
“I think it's clear that it's illegal for sure, probably unconstitutional. And I say it like that because, at the minimum, it is against the Immigration and Nationality Act, which forbids discrimination based on national origin. And it's probably unconstitutional based on the First Amendment because there's obvious animus toward muslims in all of this,” he said.
But to make sure the ban is swiftly reversed activists have to keep the pressure on.
“The pressure has to be applied in all sorts of different directions, legally, with activism. We need to make sure that the president, the administration is aware...that we're not going to support these policies, that most of the country isn't going to support him,” Huntz said. “Most of the country doesn't support this.”
Earlier on Sunday, Democratic Congresswoman from Tampa Kathy Castor said in an emailed statement that she would do what she can to help her constituents deal with the aftermath of the order.
“President Trump’s executive order targeting and banning legal permanent residents and refugees from war-torn areas is illegal, immoral and un-American. It has made us less safe. If the President wants to empower jihadists, this is the way to do it," she wrote "I am in contact with local refugee assistance agencies to monitor circumstances of families who may have been in transit. I will remain vigilant and do everything possible to ensure America continues to provide safe haven to victims of torture and persecution as our country has done since its founding."
Police formed barriers between them and heavily trafficked areas of the district as onlookers at outdoor cafes and bars voiced their opinions on the marchers. Some shouted their disapproval while others raised fists and peace signs in solidarity.
Toward the end of the march, as the protesters hung a right from East 7th Avenue onto 14th Street, a couple dozen men who stood in the covered area outside Bradley's on 7th enthusiastically cheered the marchers on.
Activists are planning marches frequently for the foreseeable future, including one scheduled for Monday at noon at USF's Tampa campus.