ST. GEORGE — Dozens of people gathered Friday evening at Vernon Worthen Park in St. George for a candlelight vigil in a show of support for immigrants in the Southern Utah area.
Action St. George, a nonpartisan political action group organized by Dixie State University professor Dr. Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva, held the vigil for solidarity with immigrants, refugees and foreign students.
Members of the group, which originated on Facebook and has over 200 members, gathered in the park’s gazebo to hear each other’s stories and talk about what kind of action can be taken against what the group refers to as “the building assault on immigrant rights.”
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“As a group we have come together very rapidly in response to President Trump’s win,” Syssoyeva said.
Recent executive orders by President Donald Trump, such as the travel restriction placed on seven Middle Eastern countries, have put immigrant and refugee communities on high alert.
“Suddenly there’s this recognition that there is a shared feeling in the community that there are many things which many people, regardless of political affiliation, find egregious in the policies of the current administration,” Syssoyeva said. “So, we’re looking for those points of focus that bring us together to stand up and assist.”
“Here in the southwest, in St. George specifically, we have a particular concern for Latino immigrants because that is our largest immigrant population locally,” Syssoyeva said.
There were many people present at the vigil from the area’s Hispanic community who expressed their fears resulting from recent political rhetoric about rounding up immigrants and building a wall on the Mexican border.
“If we’re going to look at the fears of our local community,” Syssoyeva said, “we’re going to have to factor in the fears of our Latino community.”
Information in Spanish was made available to those in attendance.
The group’s makeup was diverse, with people hailing from a wide variety of backgrounds, including one man who recently relocated to St. George from Iraq seeking asylum.
Simply preferring to go by the name David, the man came from the country’s Kurdistan region and is a Yazidi ethnic minority. In the years since ISIS declared war in Iraq, the Yazidi people have suffered immensely with widespread genocide and kidnappings.
David’s family is still in a refugee camp with what he described as “no hope” for joining him in the U.S.
“I would like to come to them to raise our voice as an immigrant,” David said in reference to his attendance at the event, “especially as the only Yazidi in Utah.”
David said he felt extremely isolated in the seven months since his arrival in the U.S. before finding some solace in the workings and support of Action St. George.
“For many of us, there is a concern that this isn’t going to stop with immigrant communities,” Syssoyeva said, “that this could extend to targeting many groups of people.”
The vigil also included people with Jewish backgrounds, as well as members of the LGBT community.
Syssoyeva expressed concern for what she perceived to be a growing trend toward open anti-Semitism and homophobia, topics the group plans to also address.
“I think there is a sense that we don’t know what this means and where it stops and we must be vigilant in guarding our community civil liberties and guarding our democratic principles and that is a community concern anywhere, it seems to me,” Syssoyeva said, noting that Action St. George is just one of a network of national organizations with similar goals.
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