Community gathers for refugees, immigrant vigil

Two USM students light candles before the vigil to honor refugees, immigrants and Muslims on Monday, Jan. 30, 2016 (Carly Snyder|Printz).

On Jan. 30, Southern Miss alumnus and Spectrum Center volunteer Taylor Vines brought hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members to Shoemaker Square in protest of President Trump’s ban on immigrants and refugees.

The protest took the form of a solemn vigil, where participants carried candles and signs that showed disdain for the administration and its actions and support for the affected communities. Vines had the idea for the event after asking his Facebook friends if anything similar had been planned in Hattiesburg.

“When people said the closest one was in New Orleans, I knew I had to organize one here,” Vines said. “I assembled some activists at the Spectrum Center Sunday night, and we planned out the vigil.”

Vines said he believes most people in Hattiesburg want to feel safe and that they want others to be safe as well.

A recent executive order from the White House has temporarily banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. The ban has sparked protests around the country and raised a number of legal questions, including whether or not it “violates the 1965 immigration law, the right to due process and the First Amendment clause that bars Congress from establishing a religion, among other things,” according to National Public Radio.

Vines, who graduated from USM with a degree in History, believes that demonstrations like the vigil will prove to be impactful in the long run.

“Actions like the vigil serve two purposes,” he said. “They remind people affected by the ban and the wall that we see them and stand with them. Also, they ask others who might not agree with us to take a moment to think about why they believe what they believe.”

During the vigil, participants listened to various speakers, yelled protest chants and sang protest songs.

Senior chemistry major Wisam Beauti, who serves as president of USM’s Muslim Student Association,
spoke at the event.

“I was delighted to see the amount of support and political awareness of so many people in the Pine Belt,” Beauti said. “It was inspiring and very heartwarming.”

Beauti said she hopes the vigil served as a “positive stepping stone” that will result in “a more educated, active and accepting society.”

“I predict more people will take it upon themselves to become more educated about Islam, immigration laws and other political topics dictating our daily lives,” she said.

Vines said events like the vigil can increase knowledge and serve two purposes.

“[These events] remind people affected by the ban and the wall and that we see them and stand with them,” he said. “Also, they ask others who might not agree with us to take a moment to think about why they believe what they believe.”

Vines said he wants those affected by the recent executive actions to know they have his support.

“I will do whatever I can to combat bigotry and discrimination against people based on their race, religion or country of origin,” he said. “After [the event], I think that a lot of other Hattiesburgers and Golden Eagles will too.”