Several high profile Greek Americans from various backgrounds— religion, entertainment, politics, education— have come out against President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration which bans refugees from Syria indefinitely and places strict controls on people from Muslim-majority countries.
Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America issued a statement on February 4 sharing the Church’s view on the treatment of strangers and citing Biblical passages about hospitality. Although the Archbishop’s statement made no reference to the Executive Order, the timing appears to be in response to a growing national (and international) opposition and outcry by other mainstream religious groups.
AHEPA, the largest Greek American organization also issued a damning statement, calling the travel ban “inconsistent with American values.”
Other high profile Greek Americans spoke out too, using the mainstream media and their own social media platforms to voice their opinions.
Admiral James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and currently a dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University said in a Boston Globe editorial that he was “disturbed” by the Executive Order which he said “tested American principles.”
“I am deeply disturbed by the general tone and thrust of the executive orders that, at least on initial read, seem to ban significant classes of people because of their religion, or prioritize one religion over another. I do not agree with decisions that simply close off any migration here from a particular nation, no matter the situation or background of the individual applying for a visa or refugee status. I am confused about what appears to restrict or at least subject to “extreme vetting” (whatever that may be) people who already hold green cards, worked honorably for the United States military (like my interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq), have already been through two years of vetting, are students at US universities like Tufts, where I am a dean, or hold valid documents to enter the United States.
Stavridis went on to say:
“I do not understand the arbitrary selection of some Muslim-majority nations but not others to face the consequences of this executive order, nor the rationale for a 90- or 120-day time period. I cannot support a policy that simply relieves us of our obligations under international law to respect the right of refugees to apply for asylum arbitrarily.”
Businesswoman and best-selling author Sophia Amoruso, best known for her “Nasty Gal” brand also shared her own immigration story with her tens of thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram, telling the story of her grandfather, Aris Mentis, who emigrated from Greece.
U.S. Congressman John Sarbanes called it “Trump’s unlawful ban” in an email he sent to his supporters, adding that “President Trump’s executive order imposing entry restrictions on refugees and citizens from certain countries is unlawful and is already being challenged in the courts. The President is pitting himself against our laws and Constitution, against an increasing public outcry over his unilateral actions and against the values that have made America a beacon of hope to the world. He will discover that this combined resistance cannot be easily ignored or dismissed.”
Sarbanes, a democrat from Maryland also shared the link to the Oscar-nominated film 4.1 Miles by Greek director Daphne Matziaraki about the heroic efforts of the Greek coast guard to save refugees stranded at sea.
As if people couldn’t tell from her heavy Greek accent, author and media commentator Arianna Huffington posted a photo of herself wearing a t-shirt that had “I am an immigrant” printed on it with the comment “Time to find this t-shirt again…”
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-MA), who is the widow of the late U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas, also came out against the Executive Order in a post on her Facebook page.
“The Third District has a long, proud tradition of embracing diversity and welcoming immigrants from across the globe. President Trump’s Muslim and refugee ban is an affront to our core values here and across the United States. The President’s executive order caps off a week of detrimental actions that could have serious consequences for our economy, world standing and national security. To target and reject people because of what they believe or where they come from is distinctly un-American, an offense to our founding fathers and an insult to the men and women who have sacrificed on behalf of our Constitution. Entering the U.S. as a refugee is one of the most difficult ways to enter the country already, with one of the most robust vetting processes – I’ve seen it myself, in person at a refugee vetting center in Jordan just this past year. The President’s actions set our nation down a dangerous path. Join me in challenging him to rethink this action.”
U.S. Congresswoman Dina Titus from Nevada, whose grandfather emigrated from Greece, held a press conference against the order from the White House.
“The notion that we would stop refugees from a place that has just been torn by war…You have seen the pictures, children drowning on the beach, houses destroyed, cities wiped out. The most desperate of times. People are just looking for a place to be safe and to bring their families, Titus said.
“All my life I was told how this country is welcoming and gives people opportunities, brings people from all around the world, brings the best out in those people and we all benefit from it. People all over the world have come here for opportunities.”
She urged Republicans and Democrats to unite against Trump’s executive order, and urged any constituents who have friends or relatives trapped out of the country to contact her office for assistance.
U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist (D-FL) also came out against what he called “executive overreach” by Donald Trump.
“Our number one priority is to keep America safe. But we must also ensure that America continues to be the beacon of light and hope to the world. These policies are not mutually exclusive. We can and should take steps to improve our vetting processes, while also allowing refugees fleeing persecution to seek a better life in the U.S. The confusion and fear created by the lack of coordination around this Executive Order is shocking and deeply troubling. It also appears the so-called religious test it would implement is unconstitutional. The administration needs to rethink this strategy immediately.”
He went on to say in an emailed statement that “If you were troubled by this past weekend’s events, you’re not alone. I watched as the Trump administration attempted to ban people from entering the country based on their beliefs. But I also saw people peacefully protest this decision, and saw lawyers and judges use the law to effectively block this executive overreach.”
Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), the lone Republican among the Greek American members of Congress issued a press statement partially in support of the travel ban but urged the Trump Administration to “correct” the error of denying entry to lawful Green Card holders.
“As the grandson of immigrants, I believe America has held, and must continue to hold, the longstanding tradition of welcoming those who are willing to work hard and contribute to our nation. I also believe we should have increased vetting of those entering our borders based on national security concerns. The seven countries included in the Executive Order have been identified by the State Department as risks to our national security, and I support efforts to temporarily halt travel as we work to assure the American people we’ve done everything possible to keep them safe. The issue of green card holders—legal permanent residents—being detained at airports should absolutely be addressed and corrected quickly. I am committed to ensuring the safety and security of the public, just as I am committed to upholding our generous and welcoming history as a country of immigrants.”
Nia Vardalos, known for her popular My Big Fat Greek Wedding films, posted the now famous photo of a Jewish and Muslim child hoisted on top of their fathers’ shoulders during an airport protest with lyrics from the Stephen Sondheim song “Children will Listen.”
“Careful the things you say, Children will listen. Careful the things you do, Children will see. And learn. -Sondheim,” she posted on her Facebook page which is followed by the photo.