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New London joins national protest of Trump immigration policy

New London — Spontaneous chants of “We care!” erupted at one point Saturday morning at Williams Park, in the heart of the city.

It was a common theme expressed by speakers at a rally that attracted hundreds of people demanding immigrant families be reunited with their children and an end to the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy of prosecuting anyone who illegally crosses the U.S.-Mexico border.

Church of the City Pastor Daniel Marino said the administration's policies and President Donald Trump's focus on immigration has resulted in a “cultural and political climate rooted in fear, mistrust and hostility towards others.”

Marino said his congregation represents more than 200 working immigrant families in New London, a city known for embracing diversity.

“We believe and hope that our Christian values of welcoming the stranger and loving the neighbor will prevail,” he said. “Now too many Americans — way too many — call people illegals, dangerous, criminals. But God calls us by our real name. Their true name is precious in God’s sight.”

Marino joined a host of faith leaders and politicians in an event that coincided with hundreds of Families Belong Together protests happening across the country.

Many in New London came wearing white clothing and bearing signs with messages like “Free the Children,” or “No excuse for child abuse.”

New Londoners Karen and Nick Fischer organized the event in part as an emotional reaction to seeing families being torn apart and detained.

“It’s horrible, just horrible,” Karen Fischer said. “It’s so damaging to the kids and to the families who have already been through hell. Most of the families coming here are fleeing violence and trying to save their children’s lives. They come to our border seeking asylum and they’re being arrested.”

The couple has long been involved with children, and not just as parents. Nick Fischer is a longtime educator and former superintendent of schools in New London. Karen Fischer has spent years working as a counselor for military families.

“This is not a complex political issue. It goes to the core value of who we are as a people,” Nick Fischer said.

President Trump, facing mounting public pressure, signed an executive order a week ago that ended the practice of splitting up parents from their children as they were taken into custody for entering the country from Mexico.

But more than 2,000 families have yet to be reunited with their kids, “despite the promises of the president,” and the families are now being held together, said U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney, who spoke at Saturday’s event.

Courtney traveled with other legislators to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, last week, where he said he met with 10 immigrant mothers, nine of whom had “no idea where their children were.”

“After we asked some questions, they were extremely nervous and extremely polite. They burst into tears uncontrollably — and so did we,” Courtney said.

Courtney drew applause from the crowd when he said, “We as a nation need to continue the drum beat of noise and advocacy.”

Saturday’s list of speakers was as diverse as the audience and included Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Susan Bysiewicz; state Reps. Joe de la Cruz and Chris Soto; Mongi Dhaouadi, the regional director of United Muslim Voices; and Pastor Steve Jungkeit from the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, where a Pakistani couple targeted for deportation has been living in sanctuary for three months.

Speeches were translated in Spanish by an energetic Efrain Dominguez, a member of the New London City Council.

Helen Coleman of Norwich said she came to Saturday’s event to be part of a group she thinks can make a difference.

“I think as a country, suddenly, we realize how important it is that we have to be out there lending our voice,” she said.

Coleman’s friend Cathy Smith-Carolan of New London said of the family separation issue, “this is just one more atrocity. It’s not the thing that brought me out. It’s the culmination of the political climate.”

“There’s a new outrage every day. It’s wearing us down,” said Alicia Primer of Groton, who joined with others at the event.

g.smith@theday.com

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