Protesters urge Concord City Council to speak against Border Patrol practices

  • Thuy Schmitz, 11, of Concord came with her family to listen to the speakers talk about the immigration issues in front of the Concord City Council chambers on Green Street on Monday evening, July 9, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the New Hampshire ACLU, holds his son Sage, 2, as they listen to the speakers Monday evening on July 9, 2018, in front of the Concord council chambers. Imam Mustafa Akaya (far right) of the Islamic Society of Greater Concord also spoke to the crowd. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Sets of children’s shoes line the walkway leading up to the entrance of the Concord City Council chambers Monday evening July 9, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Eileen Keim of Concord looks over the Concord City Council agenda for Monday evening July 9, 2018. Keim was there to support both the green agenda for Concord and the immigration stance. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Sylvia Tunguru joins others in singing during the Monday night rally in front of the Concord City Council chambers on July 9, 2018. Tunguru, 17, who came to America from the Congo, spoke to the crowd. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/10/2018 12:31:24 AM

The pathway to Concord City Hall was lined with tiny sandals, sneakers and boots on Monday.

Hundreds of shoes were laid out to represent the thousands of undocumented children separated from their families in the United States and housed in detention centers. Plaques outside the building told stories of children taken away from their parents while they fled political persecution, or from mothers as they breastfed while in government custody.

“What does it say about a person, a people, a nation that can act with such cruelty in the face of childhood innocence?” said Louise Spencer of the Kent Street Coalition, a political organization that advocates for marginalized groups. “Look around you at the shoes laid out today. Read some of the stories and ask yourself how this is happening here in this country, and what can we do to stop it.”

More than 50 protesters rallied an hour before the Concord City Council meeting Monday, urging the councilors to pass a resolution affirming their support for the immigrant community and against the “unjust” policies and practices of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The resolution suggested the council write an official letter from the city to the state’s congressional delegation and to Gov. Chris Sununu urging them to “do everything they can to put an end to these injustices.”

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the New Hampshire arm of the American Civil Liberties Union, said history is filled with examples of governments – like Germany’s concentration camps and the United States’s Japanese internment camps during World War II – that believed holding children in detention centers was acceptable.

“Every single time, history has proven them wrong,” Bissonnette said.

A federal judge two weeks ago ruled in favor of a lawsuit by the ACLU to stop family separation and to demand that immigrant children be united with their parents, Bissonnette said. But since then, the organization has learned troubling statistics.

For example, of the thousands of children separated from their parents, 101 are under the age of 5, he said. Nineteen parents have been deported without their children.

Sylvia Tunguru, 17, a Concord High School student who emigrated as a refugee from Congo three years ago, said she hoped the city would take a firm stance on immigration.

“I myself am a refugee and I came to the United States looking for refuge. I think that’s why these families and their kids came here also. It’s a shame that children are being separated from their families and they’re suffering,” Tunguru said. “I think it’s not fair.”

Several speakers brought up the increased patrols along New Hampshire borders, which have come with a boost in funding from the Trump administration. Throughout the summer, Border Patrol agents have at least five scheduled checkpoints along the state’s highways. So far, two of those operations have netted more than 20 arrests of migrants set for deportation this year.

Eva Castillo, director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, said deportation and family separation has been happening in the state for a long time.

“I’ve been doing it in New Hampshire for 30 years, and it’s been happening right under your noses,” she said. “I’ve seen so many families that have been disrupted and deported and hurt by the previous administrations.”

Members of the city council were conflicted on whether to speak out formally on immigrant family separation. Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag asked his fellow council members for advice.

“As a council, we rarely chime in on social issues. This is an issue that I feel is particularly important. I believe that as a country we’ve handled it very poorly,” Herschlag said.

Mayor Jim Bouley said it’s city council’s prerogative to chose whether or not they want to comment on social issues – but that he generally recommended that they take a neutral stance.

“I will share with you that there’s not a month that goes by that I don’t get a resolution from some organization. Some are climate change, election reform, pro-gun, anti-gun, pro-choice, safety in schools – the list goes on and on,” he said.

“I’ve already gotten into personal arguments with members of our community over just this issue, because I think it is absolutely wrong separating children from families,” Bouley added. “But those are my personal opinions – I don’t think we need to do it as a collective body.”

Ward 5 Councilor Bob Werner said he believes Concord has earned a reputation for being a welcoming community for immigrants, whether the city council votes to speak publicly on the matter or not.

“I have no doubt that we will continue to be a welcoming community,” Werner said.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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