Protesters march for the rights of refugees Saturday morning in downtown Baltimore. (Video by Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)
Amer Omar says his mother is all the family he has left, since the day in 2009 that police broke into the family's home in Sudan, trashed the place, arrested his father and brothers and killed his cat.
Omar — now 22 and a Baltimore student — fears he'll lose his connection to his last blood relative after President Donald J. Trump banned travelers from seven countries with Muslim majorities, including Sudan, from entering the United States for at least 90 days.
Omar told about 350 participants in a march for refugees in Baltimore on Saturday that his family suffered discrimination in his native country because his parents were from the Darfur region, which has been embroiled in civil war since 2003.
"The government in Sudan targeted my family," he said during a service after the march at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation on University Parkway.
"My mother worked in a hospital as a physical therapist. We went to Turkey after she lost her job. I was shocked and really sad when I heard about President Trump's decision. I haven't seen my mother in three years and she isn't doing well. I'm here in the United States by myself."
Omar joined the demonstrators, who got up early and braved temperatures in the mid-20s to march the three miles from St. Paul's Episcopal Church on North Charles Street to the cathedral.
One marcher carried a sign bearing images of the Statue of Liberty and the words "I'm with her." Another placard read, "They came for our Muslims, and we said no."
The marchers' chant: "No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here" could be heard from two blocks away. At times, their words were drowned out by the sound of horns from passing cars tooting support.
The interdenominational march in Baltimore, one of several such protests this weekend in the United States and abroad, was organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. There were marches in Washington, Philadelphia, Boulder, Colo., and London.
A federal judge in Washington state temporarily blocked the president's order from being enforced on Friday. The White House has said the Justice Department will apply for an emergency stay of District Judge James L. Robart's ruling.
The executive order was on the minds even of those who didn't carry signs or chant slogans.
At the Liberty Seventh-day Adventist Church in Milford Mill, Pastor Mark McCleary asked his congregation to keep an open mind about the new president — but also urged them to become politically engaged and to stand up for justice.
He described the ban against predominantly Muslim counties as a dangerous act that could lead to discrimination against other minority groups and further divide the country.
"What I have is my voice," McCleary said. "Christians have to stand up, speak up."
Cynthia Wagner, who teaches biology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, decided to attend the march after learning that one of her foreign-born students had been detained without reason for five hours at a local airport.
Wagner's student was returning to the United States from her native Iran two days after Trump issued his executive order. The young woman, who was traveling by herself, had brought back one of her country's best-known exports as a treat for her classmates — Iranian pistachios.
"This is not the America I know," said Wagner, 57, of Catonsville. "This is not the America I want to believe in."
Speakers at the cathedral said Trump's order, and his hints that this is merely the first step of what will become a more extensive ban, frightens even immigrants who are living legally in the United States.
Omar said two friends who were born in Sudan — one, a U.S. citizen, the other, a permanent resident — moved to Canada two days ago.
The Rev. Margarita Santana, herself an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, told marchers that members of the Latino community are now afraid even to answer their doors.
"Today, I invited people to come with us to the march," she said. "They told me, 'No, I am afraid. I don't know who is coming who would pull me off the street and send me home.'"
Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, the leader of the Episcopal diocese, warned that anti-immigrant sentiment is common worldwide. "Society tends to reject the most vulnerable among us," he said. "Refugees are rarely welcome anywhere."
He urged those in attendance to keep protesting until Trump rescinds his order.
"Right now there are refugees who had the door slammed on them a week ago," he said. "They want to know what America is all about."
He paused for a moment to gaze out at the packed pews.