Petition asks Ledyard residents to support 'welcoming community' resolution

Ledyard — A petition circulating in town is asking residents whether they would like to support a resolution that the town is welcoming to immigrants and refugees.

If enough signatures are gathered in time, the question could be on the May 16 budget referendum ballot.

The text of the petition, available at Ledyard Bill Library and the Gales Ferry Library, asks residents: "Should the Town of Ledyard issue a Proclamation stating that we are a welcoming community and that vetted refugees and immigrants from all nations are safe here?"

A workshop at the Ledyard Congregational Church a month ago, held in the aftermath of President Donald Trump's first executive order freezing immigration from six majority Muslim countries, led to the effort by a few community members to get the question on the ballot.

David Holdridge, who, along with other members of the church, has been sponsoring a family in town who fled the Syrian Civil War, said the group took a cue from similar pronouncements in Norwich and New London seeking to make immigrants feel safe and welcome in the community.

The group has become much more familiar with the immigration process during its sponsorship. In light of the executive order and anti-immigrant comments on social media, the group sought to make official the town's commitment to being welcoming, he told a meeting of the Town Council on March 29.

"We want people to be secure in emergency services and come forward as witnesses if there is a problem in the neighborhood," he said in an interview Thursday.

The group is not seeking to change any policies or make Ledyard a "sanctuary city" and anyway, he said, it's not really clear what that term means or what a town can do. Rather, they would simply like to see the town express a welcoming attitude in light of recent anti-immigrant sentiment.

"I think some people are raising the alarm that maybe there will be too many immigrants into our country and this will change the nature and culture ... but we don't see that happening; we think immigrants have always been a part of our history and part of our ongoing culture," he said.

He said the group sought to go through the petition process because members felt it was a way to engage the community in the process and get people thinking about the issue.

"Mayors of New London and Norwich have put out something saying they are welcoming communities," he said. "We wanted to do it more so there would be more involvement; people would actually take a part by having this on the ballot."

If it passes, he said he'd be happy to work on drafting language and bring it before the Town Council and mayor's office so they could produce a joint resolution.

As of Thursday afternoon, petitioners had gathered 60 of the 100 signatures they need to include the question on the ballot. They hope to bring the petitions to file with the town clerk's office on April 13.

Judith Dolphin, a church member and an active member of the League of Women Voters who also has volunteered to help the Syrian family in town, said she was happy to raise awareness of the already stringent vetting procedures in the U.S. and the strict conditions refugees face once they arrive.

The vetting and interview process for refugees can take over a year, and "they have to be self-sufficient in three months," she noted.

Dolphin has brought the petition to homeowners in her neighborhood and plans to visit a few more neighborhoods before it's due. She said the response has been positive. While some have asked her what happens if the response turns negative, she said it's an important topic to engage people on.

"We need to stand up and be counted when it comes to being welcoming communities ... we shouldn't be choosing which immigrants we want to have and which ones we want to keep away," she said. "We are enriched by a diverse culture."

n.lynch@theday.com

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