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Love thy neighbor – even the undocumented ones

Diane Keefe, left, and Greg Wolfe hold a banner Saturday in Westport in protest of migrant treatment at the U.S.-Mexico border. More than 100 protesters gathered on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen bridge.

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The actor James Naughton, who lives in Weston, recently called on all people outraged by the treatment of children and their parents at the border to come to the bridge in downtown Westport the morning of June 29th to publicly oppose Trump’s immigration policies.

When I arrived on the bridge, there were already over one hundred demonstrators assembled. I met some from Norwalk, others from Fairfield, Weston, and Westport. We marched to the lawn in front of the Westport Library to listen to Sen. Richard Blumenthal speak.  First, we heard Broadway star Kelli O’Hara sing the Star Spangled Banner. I watched many of the older folks assembled press their hands over their hearts.

Blumenthal implored us to work to change these fear-mongering policies. He told the story of his own father who fled persecution in Germany in 1935, and arrived in the US with no money, unable to speak English.  This reminded me of my own grandparents who came to the US and Canada in the late 1890s, fleeing poverty in Ireland. It was their striving for a better life for their children and grandchildren that helped build this country. My father’s father was a construction worker who helped build the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. My mother’s father became a real estate developer who built many of the three-deckers in Dorchester and ran for Mayor of Boston at one point. Like mine, most families in this country don’t have to go too far back before they have a direct relative that would have been kicked out under the President’s policies today.

Is this “making America great again”?  For me, our country was great when it was a beacon of opportunity and economic mobility, democracy, and open, civil debate that attracted our parents or grandparents. Being Irish-American I loved JFK’s message “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” and RFK’s commitment to civil rights and to improve the lot of marginalized people for whom the beacon of economic opportunity was dimmer the closer they got, confined in urban slums and isolated rural poverty. I hope the 21st century in the US becomes a time when diverse people work together building communities, not walls and gated neighborhoods built like fortresses to keep out “the Other”.

I love Norwalk because it is a microcosm of that melting pot that America can be where people live safely and in good spirits sharing in each other’s joys and struggles for a better life. We need to choose to welcome the stranger, the person desperate to give themselves and their children a better life in a democratic country.

Under the Trump administration, we seem to be denying science instead of facing down the challenge of climate change. These refugee crises and wars will only get worse if we ignore the crop failure, horrific storm damage, and wildfires that create chaos and force people to leave their homes. The effects of climate change are a root cause of desperation for many in the developing world. We ignore the suffering of our neighbors at our own peril in this interconnected world. That’s why my banner at the demonstration read “Love thy neighbor. No exceptions.”

A woman who worked for Save the Children talked about witnessing sad sights like the father and daughter who recently drowned in the Rio Grande. She had seen the same kind of tragedy over and over when, a couple of years ago, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria arrived in Europe. Her voice cracking, holding back tears, she recalled other dead parents and children who didn’t make it to “the promised land” of Europe. Blumenthal said many ask “What can I do?” He encouraged the crowd to donate to Save the Children and other nonprofits who are helping people fleeing dangerous homelands like Guatemala and El Salvador.

We must all make time to shake off our indifference to the perils afflicting others, whether gangs, climate change, or war. We must not get so caught up in our own lives that we forget the suffering outside the US.

Naughton encouraged a Marshal Plan for Central America to build up healthy economies in migrant home countries, to reduce desperation to leave. In the meantime, I will work to unseat any politician who gains currency or traction from demonizing the poor. Let’s work for leaders that pledge to live up to the inscription on our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

We are the richest country in the world. Let’s deploy our resources to save the world from climate change and war. This will turn out to be a more sound strategy than putting our heads in the sand, war-mongering and hoping to protect the US as if it can be an isolated enclave unscathed while the world burns around us.

 

Diane Keefe

14 comments

Norwalk native July 1, 2019 at 6:19 am

Dear Diane,

I suppose it’s easy for the Liberal Elite in Westport to gather together to agonize over the plight of those who choose to break our laws and live in our country illegally. After all, it is their racist and exclusionary housing and zoning policies that have kept the illegals living in other places like Norwalk; even though they may work illegally in Wesport’s restaurants and on Westport’s lawns. So Westport can continue to enjoy the benefits of illegal immigration without bearing any of the burden of educating the children of illegals or the many social services they require.

It is not the responsibility of this country to provide a living for every other country in the world. We have immigration laws. When people choose to ignore our laws, they cause the legal mechanisms to break down; making it harder for those who respect the law to come here legally. The result is legislative gridlock without long term solutions.

We must seal the border first. Then, we must deport any and all persons that are here illegally. Simultaneously, we could prosecute those who continue to employee illegals (mostly the racist Liberal Elite). Only then can we begin to have an honest reckoning about immigration reform.

Al Bore July 1, 2019 at 7:45 am

Did they propose to set up somewhere in Westport and Weston where the illegal undocumented people can live and go to school for free or next to nothing. How many illegal undocumented people live in Westport and Weston as of now? Maybe senator Dick can work on making this happen so these towns can bring these people in and welcome them as residents.

John ONeill July 1, 2019 at 9:43 am

I truly enjoy the hypocrisy of Liberals in towns like Westport and Weston. I truly believe we should help all immigrants. However, I’d like to ask Mr. Naughton how many illegal immigrants utilize the Weston school system. Are you willing to extend your hospitality to your schools and services. As far as Westport – They are nice enough to employ these people in their homes and gardens but God forbid they open their schools or beaches to the less fortunate. To people like James Naughton and his friends, I say tear your fences down, open your schools and beaches to these poor people and we will stop laughing at you.

Bob Welsh July 1, 2019 at 11:24 am

Two comments posted under the name of Connecticut’s governor have been deleted. If you’re unwilling to post under your own name, kindly refrain from posting under someone else’s. Thanks.

carol July 1, 2019 at 12:51 pm

agree,when the elite of westport and weston really want to help the poor let them do more than clean your toilets and mow your lawns. open housing,schools and shelters.then you will be helping the disadvantaged ,not by marching with signs.

Sue Haynie July 1, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Westport, Weston, & all of the tens of other tony Connecticut towns that are totally segregated, white suburban oases need to put their money, their schools, their children, their social services, their affordable housing, their taxes where their mouth is. Moral superiority sure comes cheaply nowadays.

Tysen Canevari July 1, 2019 at 10:27 pm

I would like to know why all the Dems think we should give them free health care as well? I work for a living and pay $1800 a month with a 12k deductible. Also, in CT illegals are eligible for financial aid for college. How do I sign up? Imagine being penalized for going to work every day! Blumenthal supports anything that gets him in the public eye. Didn’t he once serve in Vietnam?? I bet that wealthy guy named Himes picked him up at Kennedy airport when he returned…

DT July 1, 2019 at 11:19 pm

These comments are spot on and awesome. I’m glad to see many people in this blue state calling out the liberal hypocrisy.

Bridget P July 2, 2019 at 12:30 pm

The US is a country with 22 trillion of debt. How about a Marshall Plan for our veterans, homeless and needy? San Fransisco anyone?

We our a nation of citizens and illegal immigration has eroded our safety net. We need another 4 years of Donald Trump and then 8 years of Pence to salvage our Democracy.

EnoPride July 2, 2019 at 1:55 pm

Boy, did James Naughton pick quite the town to have a “Love Thy Neighbor (No Exceptions)” banner be waved. Does he realize that Westport consistently and aggressively bends the zoning rules to keep affordable housing and the “diversity” which comes with it O-U-T, and that Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commissioner unflinchingly commented in a meeting that bringing in such development would be “ghettoizing” Westport? Maybe Mr. Naughton should have viewed the presentation of “Segregated by Design” before he chose his host town for the gathering? Does Naughton know that Staples High School students not too long ago had a website up where Westport teens were cyber bullying others of color with ugly racist taunts? Did he ever hop on over to 323 Restaurant and Bar, and if so, did he see the “Tuskegee Experiment” cocktail option on the menu?

Hey James Naughton – Political action on wholeheartedly supporting immigrants begins at the local level. A start could be to fight hard against segregated land use and for affordable housing in Westport and Weston so you can have some actual immigrant neighbors of color to love for real, not just through a sign or a banner or a charitable donation. You have a long way to go to fulfill your quota here. Put your money where your mouth is, and your political message will not ring so hollow.

“Blumenthal said many ask ‘What can I do?’ He encouraged the crowd to donate to Save the Children and other nonprofits who are helping people fleeing dangerous homelands like Guatemala and El Salvador.”

Blumenthal should have answered that Westport, Wilton and Weston prioritize providing equality housing for these immigrants which are coming in droves to Fairfield County looking for a better life. These towns have a long way to go in welcoming immigrants with open arms.

Piberman July 3, 2019 at 10:08 am

Imagine if we gave Veterans who “served our nation” the benefits advocated for illegals violating our laws urged upon us by Democrat progressives.

Nancy McGuire July 3, 2019 at 2:19 pm

I picked up my lunch today at my favorite taco joint on Wall Street and asked the young waitress how business was going. She replied in spanglish, “pretty good, but not much from Americans.” If you want to open your borders, consider, giving these entrepreneurs some business instead of standing on bridges. Talk about segregation. It’s obvious in our local restaurants.

On another note: The State of Connecticut 8-30g affordable housing program appeals list shows Wilton as having 4% affordable housing and Westport as having 3.37%. Perhaps they should welcome more illegal persons to educate and house. I know a developer Who is looking for sites to build more affordable apartment complexes with huge developer fees and a decade of tax breaks for local homeowners and taxpayers to subsidize. Not to mention a big bank who is looking to make millions off the interest for lending on these types of properties.

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