Over 700 gather on Green to protest Trump administration's immigration policies

by Debora Hyemin Han | 7/1/18 12:02pm

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Community members held signs as they gathered on the Green to protest the Trump administration's immigration policies.

by Debora Hyemin Han / The Dartmouth Staff

Joining protestors across the country on Saturday, a crowd of approximately 700 Upper Valley community members gathered on the Green to demonstrate against the Trump administration’s immigration policies, which have resulted in the separation and detention of families at the U.S. border. The Hanover protest, organized by Democrats of the Town of Hanover and sponsored by the Dartmouth College Democrats, was a part of the nationwide “Families Belong Together” protests organized by MoveOn, the American Civil Liberties Union and Women’s March, among other groups.

The nationwide protests come two months after the Trump administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy that aims for a 100 percent prosecution rate for those who enter the U.S. illegally at the U.S.-Mexican border. As a result of the policy, families have been separated — adults have been sent directly to federal court while children have been sent to shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. To date, the policy has resulted in more than 2,500 undocumented children being separated from their parents. While President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 that reversed the family separation policy, only six children have been reunited with their parents so far.

According to chair of the Democrats of the Town of Hanover Deborah Nelson, she and New Hampshire State Representative Sharon Nordgren conceived the idea to organize the protest, noting that many people want to join resistance efforts but may not know how to do so effectively. Saturday’s protest in Hanover attracted people across multiple age groups from various counties near the New Hampshire-Vermont border.

“We knew we needed to do something because it’s completely un-American to separate children from their parents,” Nelson said in an interview after the protest. “And if people don't speak up about things like this, then we are complicit in them happening.”

Nelson and other speakers at the demonstration also spoke about the effects of the Trump administration’s immigration policy on New Hampshire and Vermont communities. Last week, U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints on Interstate 93 resulted in arrests of undocumented immigrants from countries such as Brazil, China and Ecuador.

History professor Annelise Orleck spoke to the crowd about dairy farm worker Alejandro Hernández-Ventura, who is being held at the Strafford County, N.H., detention center in lieu of an $8,000 bond. She said that the people who create the dairy products for which New Hampshire and Vermont are well-known are the ones who are being put in jail.

“This is going on here too, you know, people — ICE agents — are boarding buses and trains in White River Junction,” Orleck said in an interview after the protest. “So that's part of the story — we need to think, then act locally with our eyes toward Washington, because there are really bad things happening very close to where we live and work.”

Orleck also spoke to the crowd about the historical antecedents of the Trump administration’s policies, drawing parallels between the separation of families at the border and the separation of families during the era of slavery, as well as the separation of Native American children from parents through the 20th century. She also discussed how Trump’s actions revitalize ideas that society collectively rejected as inhumane.

“I grew up in a neighborhood where a lot of my friend’s parents had numbers tattooed on their arms,” she said at the rally. “They were survivors of Auschwitz, living in what they thought was a free land, and comfortable saying this could never happen again … One thing we thought would not happen is the legitimation of Nazis in the United States. We have reached that point.”

Orleck said in an interview after the protest that the Trump administration’s immigration policies, despite having a precedent in the Obama administration’s deportation of undocumented Mexican immigrants, are different from Obama’s policies because of their roots and accompanying rhetoric. She said that the Trump family has a “long white supremacist history” that Trump is drawing on, calling Trump’s father Fred Trump a white supremacist.

“You know, Obama was called the deporter-in-chief. He deported a lot of people, but it's [the Trump administration’s] entire package,” she said. “It's the rhetoric, and it's the separation of children and it's through rounding up or rounding up people who've done nothing wrong living in this country … and deporting them.”

She also said that the deportation of immigrants is different in this administration because of Trump’s efforts to get rid of due process for immigrants in their deportation process — a proposal that has resulted in mass trials of immigrants, which she says looks like “mass trials in dictatorships.”

At the protest, associate pastor at the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College Rob Grabill spoke about the religious aspect of the Trump administration’s rhetoric and its use in justifying exclusionary laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for example, has cited verses in Romans 13 that instruct readers to “obey the laws,” while White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said it is “very biblical” to obey the law. Grabill said that scripture has been “plucked out” to justify certain actions that stand in contrast to the Gospel’s broad message of caring for others.

“It’s the job of Christians who follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ … to recognize that that Gospel says we have to care for all people, we have to care for the stranger, care for the orphan, care for the refugee, and that’s the broad warrant of scripture,” Grabill said in an interview after the protest.

Adding to the contextualization of the Trump administration’s immigration policy in historical and religious contexts, executive director of the United Valley Interfaith Project Rod Wendt spoke about tangible things protesters could do after the rally, including voting in November for representatives who will oppose Trump’s policies at the state level.

Members of the community running for positions in New Hampshire state government were introduced at the rally, including Garrett Muscatel ’20, who is running as State Representative for Grafton County District 12 in the New Hampshire State House of Representatives this November. Muscatel called for members of the rally to fight for issues in addition to family separation, such as threats to voting rights, the rights of women and members of the LGBT community and continuous mass shootings across the country.

In an interview after the protest, Muscatel said the Trump administration’s policies contributed to his decision to run for the position.

“I’ve seen great things that people can do to combat the oppressive ideals of certain administrations, and I want to get involved in the legislative front myself, especially [when it comes to] protecting students’ rights,” he said.

Nelson said in the interview that given the “extraordinary efforts” to disenfranchise college students done by Republicans in the state of New Hampshire, efforts to bring awareness of voting will be crucial come November. In recent months, the state legislature has voted on multiple bills, such as House Bill 1264 and Senate Bill 372, that critics say would deter many college students from voting.

Nordgren agreed that one of the goals that came out of Saturday’s rally will be to secure a Democratic majority in the State House.

Nordgren also said after the rally that the protest allowed people who shared concerns about the country to come together — an aspect of gathering that Orleck emphasized in her remarks at the rally. She noted that protesters were participating in a “noble past,” much like musician Woody Guthrie and writer Grace Paley.

Orleck said that she wanted to remind people how long movements like women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement took to achieve their goals.

“It isn't all about winning or losing,” she said. “It's a good way to spend your life. It's an important way to spend your life: struggling against injustice and inhumanity and cruelty and racism.”

Julian Nathan contributed reporting.