A group of roughly 150 students across different undergraduate and graduate schools marched from Locust Walk at 12 p.m. on Wednesday to the district office of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to hand-deliver a letter signed by upwards of 3,000 members of the Penn community.
The letter calls on elected officials to condemn President Donald Trump‘s recent executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Several students in the Wharton MBA program organized the march after hearing about the struggles of colleagues and faculty members, one who is unable to visit his wife in Canada out of fear he won’t be let back into the country, Wharton graduate student Mitch Gainer said. They then collaborated with undergraduates and graduate students across Penn Law School and the Perelman School of Medicine.
Toomey expressed support for Trump’s executive order in late January.
“I support the administration’s decision to increase vetting and temporarily suspend the admission of certain individuals from states that sponsor or provide safe havens to terrorists, or are too weak to prosecute terrorists within their borders,” Toomey said in a statement reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Terrorists have successfully infiltrated refugee populations entering Europe and gone on to commit heinous acts of barbarity.”
The group marched north on 34th Street and then east on Market Street to reach Toomey’s office at 1628 JFK Boulevard. At 1 p.m. the group stood waiting outside for Toomey’s staff to come down while different speakers took turn sharing stories “on behalf of all the people who couldn’t be here out of fear of what this could mean for their current citizenship status,” Gainer said. “We’re here to represent them and make sure Senator Toomey hears their voices.”
After approximately 10 minutes several staffers came down and by around 1:30 p.m. a group of seven was allowed upstairs for a meeting with the office staff, said Ritika Chaturvedi, who received a doctorate from the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2014, and is the partner of one of the organizers, Wharton and Perelman School of Medicine graduate student Clifford Marks.
The meeting lasted roughly 10 minutes, said Chaturvedi, during which the group of graduate students voiced their concerns.
“They sort of gave us stock answers. because they can only say so much,” Chaturvedi said. “There was nothing that came out of the meeting that was I would say productive other than they heard our concerns.”
Although Chaturvedi said the group did mention their colleagues without citizenship or permanent resident status who were afraid to come to the march, and the staffers said the office could assist those affected by the ban on a “case-by-case basis.”
“Organizationally and the message, it all came across very well,” said Wharton freshman Dylan Milligan, political director of Penn Democrats. Milligan said he was one of five or six undergraduates who attended the march.
The trek to Toomey’s office is the latest in a series of student-led marches in protest of Trump’s executive order on immigration.
The letter also calls on representatives to block and overturn the order and to vote against the appointment of judges and officers “who would support similar policies that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, and national origin.”