Civic, faith leaders reaffirm New London's commitment to immigrants

New London City Council President Anthony Nolan addresses a gathering of local faith and civic leaders called by Mayor Michael Passero for a rally to reaffirm the city's commitment to immigrants and refugees Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
New London City Council President Anthony Nolan addresses a gathering of local faith and civic leaders called by Mayor Michael Passero for a rally to reaffirm the city's commitment to immigrants and refugees Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — A mix of civic and religious leaders packed the lobby of City Hall on Thursday to condemn President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from certain countries and to reaffirm the city’s commitment to welcoming refugees and immigrants.

Mayor Michael Passero had called for the gathering in response to Trump’s executive order signed Friday that temporarily bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. He said Trump’s executive order violated both a constitutional commitment to civil rights and the country’s longstanding reputation as a refuge for immigrants and refugees fleeing war and oppression.

“Friday’s ban and other disquieting signals coming from Washington have understandably rattled the nerves of many in this diverse and culturally rich community,” Passero said. “It is therefore fitting that we stand together today in the seat of our local government to reaffirm our core values to protect and defend the civil rights of all members of our community.”

Passero and comments from others speaking Thursday elicited applause or a chorus of “amens,” depending on the speaker.

Rev. Ian Douglas, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Connecticut, said Trump’s executive order undermined the commitment by the church to help settle immigrants and refugees in Connecticut.

“The Judeo-Christian tradition has a rich and deep commitment to welcoming the alien and the stranger,” Douglas said. “This is not so much a matter of political conviction, it’s a faith conviction for us. We hope and we pray that the Draconian measures exercised by this executive order will be turned back so we can turn back to the ministry of welcoming the alien and the stranger.”

Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron, referencing the three colleges in New London, said, “Our community is immeasurably strengthened by the diversity of cultural and religious and political perspectives brought by people from around the world. That means both permanent and temporary residents of the City of New London."

“This collective is in turn immeasurably diminished when this breadth of knowledge is threatened. We need each other now more than ever,” she said.

School Superintendent Manuel Rivera said it is the diversity of the students in New London that makes the schools special. To alleviate some of the questions and concerns among the students and parents, he said he will hold two public forums this month to send the message that “we are all part of the same family.”

While there was no reference in Thursday’s speeches to what many consider to be New London’s status as a so-called sanctuary city, acting police Chief Peter Reichard said the department is committed to protecting the rights of all people, regardless of status.

He said police officers are instructed as part of their training on racial profiling to “treat everybody equally across the board,” and to “provide a safe environment to everyone in the community — no exceptions.”

“We do investigate criminal acts,” Reichard said. “We don’t investigate civil complaints such as civil immigration detainers.”

Former Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio in 2011 issued an executive order mandating that police not inquire about a person’s immigration status or take measures against a suspected undocumented immigrant or refugee unless a violation of federal immigration law was being investigated.

City Council President Anthony Nolan, who is also a city police officer, aimed his comments directly at Trump

"Respectfully, sir, you are wrong,” Nolan said. “Respectfully, you are not making America great again when you are deciding to do something that goes against the culture of our community. We are standing together because we know that we are right and you are wrong.”

g.smith@theday.com

Dayanara Nieves, 14, holds a sign reading
Dayanara Nieves, 14, holds a sign reading "We Stand Together" while attending a rally called by New London Mayor Michael Passero with local faith and civic leaders to reaffirm the city's commitment to immigrants and refugees Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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