Hundreds protest Trump immigration policy
and Emma LeMay
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Bennington and Manchester on Saturday, standing up for families who have been separated at the United States-Mexico border in the Trump Administration's immigration crackdown.
The local protests were among an estimated 700 "Families Belong Together" events that were held across the country on Saturday. Participants estimated that over 100 people had shown up to the Bennington rally, and nearly twice that number in Manchester Center.Amid a bipartisan uproar, the Trump administration has backed away from efforts to separate families who are seeking asylum in the United States and have crossed the border illegally. While Trump signed an executive order last week to stop the forced separations of families last Wednesday, an exact plan to reunite families hasn't been established.
"Being from Mexico, this is something that is close to me," said Kyla Garcia, a rising junior at Mount Anthony Union High School. "I've been listening to the news and watching everything, and a lot of my friends are immigrants . It's awful to have to see this happen because it is a humanitarian crisis."
"The fact that it's being ignored and brushed off as though `Oh, this has happened before, we're not doing anything — it's not our fault, it's the past presidents, you're just calling on us.' It's a way of putting the blame on somebody else and not dealing with the issue."
As she stood feet away from Main Street's big clock, Garcia held up a sign that read: "Somos amigos, no enemigos," or "We are friends, not enemies."
Like other participants in the protest, she wore a white shirt to showcase unity and a necklace with a Mayan doll on it to represent her heritage and showcase that her background is a part of her identity. It was a gift from her parents in Mexico.
Her mother, who lives in Mexico with Garcia's father and other family members, urged her daughter to participate in the protest as soon as she heard about it.
"The issue isn't just skin deep, there's more to it," Garcia said. "I'm Latina, but people don't find a problem with me, but they find a problem with someone who comes here and starts up a job that a lot of people wouldn't want to do. But the simple fact that they come from another country and maybe they don't speak English — it's rooted in racism. There's so many layers to it.
"I'm glad that people came out. There was more support than there was hate," she said.
Garcia lives in Bennington with her grandparents and has lived here since Hurricane Odile swept through her hometown in 2014 and severely damaged her school and her parents' workplace. The destruction would have cost her months of school, so her family decided to send her here to continue her schooling.
She originally was going to stay for the school year, but she ended up liking Vermont so much, that she decided to stay. Garcia explained that there were more opportunities for her in the United States to go to college and study what she is truly interested in. She had planned to one day come to America, the hurricane just made it happen sooner than expected. Her mother's side of the family has roots in New England.
The Stith family — Sarah, Nathan, Zoe, and Owen — was one of the many families who demonstrated in the protest. Sarah Stith, originally from Bennington, comes up from San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and children during the summer to visit her family, while Nathan works in town.
Both of the children were excited to participate. Owen Stith, the youngest of their children, said that they were here to help other people fight against the ongoing issues with the president's administration. He and his older sister, Zoe, made the signs that family members were holding.
"We can't imagine [being separated from our children] as parents, so we want to stand up for other people who are being separated and let them know that they're not alone and not being forgotten," Sarah Stith said. "We're also wanting to show our kids that if you think something is not right you can do something about it, even if it's just standing on a street corner and holding a sign for an hour."
Many of the families who have been separated are just trying to better their lives for themselves and their children and are often escaping from dangerous areas, Sarah Stith said. She couldn't imagine being punished for doing the right thing for her children.
Her sister, who lives in Bennington, was the one who recommended that they participate in the protest. She joined them on Main Street along with some other members of their family.
As they stood holding their signs in front of them, Sarah Stith said that they had been talking about what it would be like to be in the situation that many of these families must endure. She found it touching to see how many people came out to stand with them and show that they're not alone in their fight.
In Manchester, nearly 200 people gathered at Adams Park and, carrying signs in support of immigrants and opposing the administration, marched along the sidewalks of Main Street to the roundabout at the junction of Main and Depot streets. Traffic was briefly held up as the marchers crossed streets on the way to the roundabout and back.
Organizer Kate Paarlberg-Kvam of Arlington, carrying her one-year old daughter Juniper on her back, was pleased by the turnout and support.
"We had twice the number of people we thought we would come out today. Folks from out of town and locals. It was great energy," Paarlberg-Kvam said.
"Almost everyone came from somewhere else," said participant Dan Seiden of Manchester. "They deserve our compassion, just like anybody else."
Some marchers brought their children to take part. One sign carried by a young boy read "Superman was an immigrant."
Some signs were aimed directly at the Trump administration and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE); others emphasized the human rights of immigrants seeking refuge here, such as "No human is illegal" and "Immigrant families are human families."
Paarlberg-Kvam and Vicki Lampron of Bennington and the Rights and Democracy VT activist group addressed the group and gave instructions before it filed about of the park and crossed Main Street — at the crosswalk — on its way to the roundabout.
Lampron recited "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, the poem inscribed on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty, with many of the marchers joining in for the last five lines.
"It's our obligation to take a stand for those who can't," Lampron said.
Once they reached their destination, the marchers, filling most of the sidewalk around the roundabout, chanted "Love, not hate, makes America great" and other phrases, and sang "This Land Is Your Land" and "We Shall Overcome."
Many passers-by honked their horns in support. Others who apparently disagreed made disapproving hand gestures as they drove by.
Marchers spoke of their disapproval of the "zero tolerance" policy and family separations at the Mexican border, and the treatment of immigrants under the Trump administration
"We're appalled by what's happening in our country," said Linda Rodgers, a Londonderry homeowner from Massachusetts.
"My heart bleeds for what's going on ... The hate. I fear for the young children of today" said Nancy Diaferio, a Manchester resident.
" The bond between a mother or father and a child is sacred. The fact that Trump's administration is interfering with that is something more than a crime against humanity," said Laureen Park, a Brooklyn resident visiting Salem, N.Y.
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