Press Pool Story
About two hundred students and community residents braved the cold night air on the campus of Central Connecticut State University to rally in support of immigrant families and communities, and to speak out against bigotry.
The rally is the latest reaction in New Britain in the wake of Donald Trump’s policies attacking immigrants. Trump built an electoral campaign on hatred directed at communities of color, women, the LGBTQ community and many others. Immigrant communities were a common target of his rhetoric.
Now, with the power of the presidency, Trump is trying to actually build the wall on the border with Mexico that he often promised, he has banned Muslims from whole countries, including those trying to escape violence, and he is threatening “sanctuary cities” that refuse to make local services, like local policing, a part of the national deportation apparatus.
Student leaders speaking at the rally talked of inclusiveness, inviting students of all political affiliations to join in opposing racism and bigotry, but the rally was clearly directed in purpose, “No Ban, No Wall!” Students spoke in very personal terms about how Trump’s policies affected them and their families, threatening to divide families and separate children from their parents.
As divisive as the Trump immigration policies have been nationwide and internationally, they have been all the more controversial in New Britain. Of New Britain’s 73,000 people, nearly 20% were born outside of the United States, according to Census statistics.
Some leaders in the community have been taking strong stands in support immigrants.
“Why the issue of immigration is so personal to me,” said Alderman Carlo Carlozzi, Jr. (D-5), the Democratic City Council Leader, on Facebook. “My maternal grandfather Giuseppe Ricciardi was a US citizen and served in the US Army as a medic in WWI. My maternal grandmother Rose Barile Riccicardi was an Italian citizen. My Mom and her three siblings were all born in New Britain but went to Italy in 1931, during the depression. My Mom was all of 15 MONTHS old. My grandparents had a home and land in Italy and they felt that the family would do well in Italy during the depression. Around 1934 my grandfather returned by himself to the USA to work and save money and send money back to his family in Italy, leaving his wife and young children. All was fine till WWII and Italy (Mussolini) aligned with Germany (Hitler). As we all know the USA aligned with England in the fight against Nazi Germany and Fascism. My Mother to this day remembers her mother fearing for the health and safety of her children (my Mom and her siblings). My grandmother worried and feared that Mussolini would either round up all the Americans living in Italy and hurt them or kick them out of the country and deport them all back to America. That means that as a young teenager my Mother would have been separated from her Mother and the only home that she knew up until that point. Immigration is an important issue, I do want to make sure our country is safe. However all this fiat did was make ALL AMERICANS more at risk all over the world. Tonight I fear for ALL AMERICANS living or traveling outside of the United States. I fear for how they might be targeted or harmed. We need to make sure our borders our safe but we need to have a policy that makes sense and not something that was ill-conceived, mean-spirited and with no understanding of the fall out from such a ridiculous fiat that was done with the stroke of a pen.”
Democratic Alderman Manny Sanchez (D-3) recently said on Facebook, “What has been transpiring in our country is disappointing and sad. While it is important to wish our current president success because the decisions he makes will affect us all, I cannot stand by while he is marginalizing specific communities to live up to several promises he made to hate groups.” He added, “New Britain will be a Sanctuary City, we owe it to the melting pot of diverse communities we have here.”
Sanchez’s call for a sanctuary city was met with opposition from City Council Republican Jim Sanders (R-AL). “Sorry my friend not on my watch I will not allow this city to violate federal immigration laws or put our citizens at risk.” Republicans currently hold the majority in the City Council and the mayor’s office.
Sanders added, “For the record I am all for supporting any and all immigrants who wish to come here legally.” Responding on Facebook to a New Britain Progressive article including his comments, Sanders said, “For the record immediately after my post I had a lengthy phone call with Alderman Sanchez on how we could work together to come up with a solution that would be good for New Britain…”
But when asked by the New Britain Progressive whether he had changed his “not on my watch” position, Sanders replied, “I think adopting the title of a sanctuary city under this presidency could be dangerous.” Asked whether he considers federal immigration laws, and Trump’s policies, in particular, to be just laws, Sanders responded, “yes I do believe that the federal laws are just laws.”
But the New Britain school district took a different position. Superintendent Nancy Serra declared that the school system “will remain strong in support of our immigrant and refugee families. Our teachers, principals social workers and other support staff are ready to support our children and families who may be experiencing distress.”
Serra added, “we will not tolerate any bullying or discrimination that interferes with the learning or rights of others.” In the wake of the November elections, students and their families had been reporting an increase in bullying in the New Britain schools on the basis of immigration status.
“Here in New Britain, diversity is one of our greatest strengths.” Serra added, pointing out that, “We are home to over 150 students from the seven countries included in [Trump’s] recent executive order and over 2,000 students from 67 other countries around the world.”
“We value and respect each and every one of them,” said Serra, “and remain dedicated to our task of providing each of them with the best education possible.”