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City divided over Trump's travel ban

Supporters, protesters voice opinions on controversial executive order

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As protesters continued to decry President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven countries with Muslim-majority populations, many of Jacksonville's leaders -- a majority of them Republicans -- voiced their support Tuesday for Trump's action.

The order came down last weekend and thousands of protests erupted across the country as a result. The order bans 218 million people from entering the United States for 90 days and also halts the Syrian refugee program for 120 days.

Trump says the order, which bans travel to the U.S. from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq, is an urgent matter and necessary to keep terrorists out of the country.

“In the spirit of what's happening with the executive order, I would tend to agree. I think we have to do something to fix a broken system, so a temporary ban on allowing people to come in until we get that system fixed, I think, is an appropriate step to take,” Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said Tuesday at a conference of sheriffs in Jacksonville.

A rally outside the Duval County Courthouse, led by the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, drew at least 200 protesters.

"The rest of the world is looking at us, and looking to us for leadership, and I want to be a part of that leadership that shows that we respect the people that are coming here as refugees and immigrants," said Susanne Bonaquist, who is against the order.

Eddy Lee, who opposes Trump's order, said, for him, the protest was personal.

"When Trump made fun of people with disabilities, I'm a blind man. He made made fun of all of us and it will not stand," Lee said. "I believe the executive order is unconstitutional. I believe we're in a constitutional crisis. We are here to bring the nation back into the Constitution before we become a fascist state."

Several Trump supporters also gathered in front of the courthouse in a counter-protest, and at least two dozen Jacksonville police officers were there to keep the peace.

"Trump had every right to say these countries have been identified and, therefore, we are going to enforce a 90-day ban to vet them to make sure they're being vetted properly," said Roger Cable, who supports Trump's order. 

Just hours before the rally, Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with sheriffs from across the state. When asked his position on the ban, Scott said he supports keeping people safe and emphasized that he does not see the ban as targeting a particular religion.

“I know the president is focused on how do we secure borders and keep people safe, so if you look at this, this is not a Muslim ban. This is a let's take a pause, let's figure out how do we do this right to keep people safe,” Scott said. “I support when the president says he's going to focus on how do we keep people safe. I know that he's come up with a plan. He's going to be tweaking that plan to make sure we do it the right way.”

Other leaders from across the state also voiced their support for the ban, including Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper, Rep. John Rutherford and Sen. Marco Rubio.

"The United States has been and will continue to be a nation of immigrants that welcomes people from around the world that love this land,” Rutherford said in a statement. “But we must protect our citizens first and foremost by ensuring that we keep would-be terrorists from exploiting our visa and refugee programs. I support increased vetting of travelers from countries that are known sponsors and harbors of terrorism, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to strengthen our vetting of foreign travelers."

But the order has many people, particularly Muslims, worried and upset and has sparked protests like the one held Tuesday by the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition.

There are about 8,000 Muslim families in Jacksonville, and many came from the countries on the list. At least three University of North Florida students and about 10 Jacksonville University students are affected by the travel ban.

"I have a lot of Muslim friends and friends who are from the countries that are banned and they're concerned that they are not going to be able to visit family and that their parents won't be able to come for holidays. This goes to the core of who we are as a country," John Aloszka, who opposes Trump's order, told News4Jax at Tuesday's protest.

Aloszka added that he's organizing another rally in an effort to get Trump to release his tax returns. The #TaxMarchJax is scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. April 15 in Hemming Park.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson said he was disappointed by Trump's order.

“It goes against everything this country stands for,” Lawson said in a statement. “I can think of few things more un-American than discriminating against people seeking refuge on our shores because of their religion. This action betrays who we are as a country. Keeping the American people safe from threats from abroad is very important to me, but targeting an entire religion is completely misguided and irresponsible.
This order dishonors our values and has caused shockwaves of confusion throughout our nation. America is the land of opportunity regardless of age, race, class and religion. I will continue to work for smart action to protect our borders while protecting religious freedom and defending our American values.”