Interfaith leaders denounce Pittsburgh shooting, Trump's 'attack' on immigrants

Cherri Gregg
October 30, 2018 - 5:43 pm

Cherri Gregg | KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — An interfaith group of religious leaders came together for a press conference Tuesday to denounce the mass shooting inside a Pittsburgh synagogue and President Donald Trump's latest attack on undocumented immigrants. 

They said a prayer of mourning, at Friends Center in Center City, for the 11 men and women who were gunned down inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, calling out each of their names. The leaders represented area mosques, churches, and synagogues who called the massacre the direct result of a larger scheme of hate that began more than two years ago.

"We are once again what we have been before - on the fringes," said Rabbi Authur Waskow of the Shalom Center. He says for many years the Jewish Community considered itself part of the fabric of America, but that security is being chipped away as their they are now being marginalized and attacked like people of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrant populations.

"We are not surprised that this attack happened under this presidency," Waskow said.

The leaders also denounced the killing of two African-American seniors by a 51-year-old white man in Kentucky, which is currently being investigated as a hate crime. The suspect, Gregory Bush, was seen trying to enter a Black church before he shot the two seniors, Maurice E. Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones, in a Kroger parking lot.

"What we are seeing is a return of open, flagrant bigotry," said Timothy Welbeck, a staff attorney with the Council for American Islamic Relations-Philadelphia. He says they will fight against all efforts to marginalize vulnerable people, including President Trump's threat to issue an executive order ending the 14th Amendment's promise of birthright citizenship for all.

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"The president has embraced White Nationalist ideology as part of his agenda," says Welbeck. "Their idea is that America is a White nation and so to allow other people to come here and be born here and receive the same rights, for many of them it is an affront to their identity."

The concept of "birthright citizenship" is embedded in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It was passed after black Americans were freed from slavery.  The 14th Amendment gave them citizenship based on their birth. Welbeck says case law supports the concept and it cannot be changed with an executive order.

"The president would need a constitutional amendment, he would need an act of Congress, and he would need a Supreme Court decision," said Welbeck.

Welbeck believes any executive order on the subject would be overturned under the law.

In the meantime, immigration advocates see the announcement as an effort to distract from the mass killing and to rile up the Republican base in advance of the Nov. 6 midterm election.

"This is what the President does," said Blanca Pacheko, of the New Sanctuary Movement.  "Whenever there is a big tragedy he doesn't talk about it, it then just creates another crisis."