More than 100 people gathered in Lackawanna on Friday, holding American flags and signs protesting President Trump's immigration and refugee policies.
The event, which brought together a host of community, political and faith leaders, aimed to show support for those affected by the administration's revised travel ban.
Trump signed an executive order Monday that blocked citizens of six countries that are majority Muslim from entering the United States: Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Syria.
The changes have led to fear and anger for some in the Muslim community, including in this city of 18,000 -- where one-third of the population is composed of people who are first-, second- or third-generation in the United States from Yemen.
"The situation in Yemen is dire," said Mohamed Albanna, referring to the military conflict in the Middle Eastern country.
"That is why the ban hurts so much. Thousands of people are displaced by war," said the Lackawanna resident who also serves as chairman of the board of Access of Western New York, a group that promotes closer ties between the Arab-American community.
Dr. Khalid Qazi, founding president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York, told the crowd that Americans are living in difficult times.
"Presidents are traditionally a source of calm and leadership that we are sorely missing today. We have a Republican president betraying that tradition," said Qazi, who contrasted Trump with President George W. Bush, saying Bush made clear after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 that Muslims are an integral part of U.S. society and that the terrorist act had nothing to do with the religion of Islam.
"If the president of the United States is not going to say these things," he said. "Then we need to send that message to him."
The New York Immigration Coalition, ACCESS of Western New York and a handful of other organizations sponsored the rally, which was held at St. Anthony Church on South Street in the Old First Ward.
Church Deacon David Velasquez was joined by other religious leaders, including Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth Zion, the Rev. Mark Blue, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Lackawanna, the Rev. Francis X. “Butch” Mazur , representing the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, Diana Leiker, deacon with the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York and the Rev. Stan Bratton of the Network of Religious Communities.
Others who addressed the crowd included Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, and State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo.
Speakers said the executive order, as well as what they called the administration's attitude, had emboldened racist extremists and anti-Semites, citing threats to Jewish community centers.
"America is a melting pot, a salad bowl, and we need everyone," said Blue. "We can't exclude people because of their religion."
"We are a nation of immigrants," said Freirich. "We do stand as one. We truly are in this together."
Trump's new executive order was revised after a federal appeals court blocked a first order in January.
The new order continued to impose a 90-day ban on travelers, but removed Iraq. The new order exempts permanent residents and current visa holders, and it eliminated language viewed as giving preferential status to persecuted religious minorities over Muslims with similar hardships. It also replaced an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria with a 120-day freeze.
Similar to the old order, the new one cut the number of refugees admitted to the United States each year to 50,000 from about 110,000.
"After reviewing the facts and in thorough consultation with the Cabinet, the president had concluded these actions are necessary to protect the United States from those who, unfortunately, wish to do us harm," Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a press briefing after the revised order was issued.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown recently told The Buffalo News that there has been a 95 percent increase since 2006 in foreign-born residents in Buffalo, bringing the number to about 22,000. Many of the recent refugees come from Burma, Bhutan, Somali, Syria and Iraq.
Eva M. Hassett, executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo, said refugees have contributed to the city's economy and helped offset a loss in population.
However, with the new policies, she characterized the refugee resettlement programs in Buffalo as "under attack."