Vigil, postcards, resettlement committee: Ridgefielders protest Trump’s refugee ban

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

A candlelight vigil in Ballard Park Sunday night drew some 200 concerned people to raise flickering lights of protest against President Donald Trump’s actions barring refugees and immigrants from entering the country.

They weren’t alone in expressing disapproval.

The town’s resettlement committee reported a small surge in people wanting to help its efforts on behalf of refugees, and organizers of the Ridgefield Women’s March group gathered to write more than 1,500 postcards to elected officials objecting to the new administration’s policies.

“I felt the need to join with like-minded people and express concern,” said Arlene Litt, who organized Sunday’s vigil in less than a day.

“I was hoping for 50 people and when they just kept coming and coming, young people, older people, children, I was moved to tears,” she said. “It was truly inspiring. I think many came to tell their stories.”

President Trump’s executive order prevents any refugees from entering the United States for 120 days to allow time for vetting procedures to be toughened; it blocks refugees from Syria from entering indefinitely, and prevents entrance into the United States by any visitors from seven countries designated by the administration as potential sources of terrorist threats: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen.  

The resettlement committee also told The Press that the Syrian family it is sponsoring here isn’t directly affected by Trump — they’re already in the United States and don’t have relatives abroad they were hoping to bring here.

Jessica Mancini, one of the organizers of the Women’s March group, said Sunday’s vigil was created to show a local response to the executive order and stand with immigrants and refugees, and for human rights.

“With over 200 in attendance, our residents joined together in song to America the Beautiful and This Land Is Your Land, followed by each person coming up one at a time to say why they were there and encourage each other to remain strong and resist,” she said. “Several Muslim refugees and immigrants spoke, sharing their stories and concerns.”

Litt posted a message on the women’s group’s Facebook page thanking those who participated.

“As I stood shoulder to shoulder with you and listened to the people who shared their personal stories of being immigrants and refugees or being children of refugees, it strengthened my resolve to be a voice for those who are being silenced,” she wrote.

“I thought of my own grandfather telling me of his excitement seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time as he peered through a porthole of his ship in New York Harbor. I thought of my children’s honorary grandmother who is a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Ukraine. She would recount stories of being exiled in Siberia as a young girl, of her grandfather, who was beaten to death in front of his children during a pogrom, and of her father who was jailed during the German occupation because he was a journalist and a partisan.

“As I listened to the compelling stories of my neighbors I was agonizingly reminded that victims have faces and names,” Litt wrote. “That we do not legislate against things but against mothers, and children, and fathers. Fear does not make us freer. Fear paralyzes and divides.

“Acceptance makes us strong, action makes us strong,” she said. “I am so proud to be a member of a group of other women and men in this town who recognize that exercising our constitutional right to peacefully assemble carries with it a responsibility to be a voice for not only ourselves but for those whose voices would be silenced.”

Resettlement committee

Trump’s actions were upsetting to the Ridgefield Resettlement Committee, which worked for more than a year to sponsor a refugee family that has been living here since early December.

“We have been expecting some form of executive order on this subject ever since the November election,” Committee Co-Chairs Michael Rettger and Ann O’Brien told The Press Tuesday. “Many members of our group were nonetheless horrified by the extent and implications of the order when it came out.

“The focus of our committee has always been humanitarian, and not political,” he said. “As such, we feel our best response as a group is to continue to show the welcoming face of America. We maintain our efforts to help refugee families here in Ridgefield and elsewhere in the area get established in their new lives in America — the country they are very thankful to be in, and where, despite the politics, they would like to build their futures, and those of their children.

“We are also responding to a number of new inquiries from townspeople who, in response to the order, are asking how they can get involved with our efforts,” Rettger and O’Brien said.

“The family here in Ridgefield is not affected directly. They are already here as legal U.S. residents, and the executive order does nothing to change that status.”

10 actions, 100 days

On Friday, the day President Trump signed the controversial executive order, the Ridgefield Women’s March group followed up its four-busload trip to Washington for the march through the streets of Washington the day after President Trump’s inauguration.

Gathering in one of the town hall meeting rooms, members wrote more than 1,500 postcards to elected officials — governors, senators, state representatives — expressing their concerns.

They plan to do more.

“Our goal is to continue to commit to our democracy and take 10 actions in 100 days,” said Mancini.