The Middletown Freedom City Initiative is expanding its online presence to reach out to more community members and University students.

The initiative consists of Middletown residents and members of nearby towns. They were formed through the American Civil Liberties Union’s People Power movement but are now an independent offshoot with more of a focus on helping immigrants.

“We have a responsibility to our most vulnerable people,” said Ruth Howell, the de facto co-chair.

The original intent of the group focused on undocumented immigrants in Middletown. The group was involved in refugee settlement but sought a larger community of support for undocumented immigrants residing in Middletown and in surrounding communities. Unlike those living in the United States with refugee status, individuals who enter the country irregularly are afforded fewer rights and, as a result, face a unique set of problems.

While the group started in early spring of last year, many residents of Middletown and nearby towns joined over the summer. The group has recently spent more time on their social media outreach, creating a public Facebook event for their last meeting. As a result, there were many first-time members at their Friday meeting seeking to help in any way they could.

“We define ourselves as activists,” Howell said. “We have broad goals.”

One such action took place last week when 35 people, including nine Wesleyan students, were arrested at the federal immigration office in Hartford in protest of a Meriden couple at risk of deportation. Many members of the Middletown Freedom City Initiative were in attendance.

Generally, the group aims to build a coalition of allies to raise awareness and community involvement in immigrants’ rights. One of the groups more recent goals is a proclamation by the Middletown government that the city is welcome to all people no matter their background.

“It’s a statement of who we are as a city,” member Laurie McPhadden said.

Although the group is supportive of Middletown Mayor Dan Drew’s recent executive order declaring that Middletown police will not cooperate with immigration authorities to enforce federal immigration laws, they had hoped that the mayor would go further. Members of the group want the executive order expanded from police to other public institutions like schools. The members see their next step as a meeting with the superintendent of Middletown schools.

Doug Clark, a former pastor from Guilford, works with the Middletown Refugee Resettlement Coalition (MRRC) and attended his first meeting Friday. Doug works to find cosponsors for refugee families and partners with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) to provide support for refugees moving to Middletown. Doug attended to connect the MRRC with the Middletown Freedom City Initiative and help out in any way he could.

Middletown currently has two refugee families, one from Iraq and the other from Syria.

“Our original intent was to raise sufficient funds to co-sponsor three families,” Clark said of his work in the MRRC.

President Trump’s recent decision to cap the number of refugees accepted in 2018 to 45,000, the lowest level determined since 1980, has brought that goal into question.

“It’s hard to say whether we’ll be able to co-sponsor a third family but we may be hamstrung by what’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania,” Clark said. “We’re very much in limbo.”

Overall, Clark thinks Middletown is extraordinarily welcoming towards immigrants.

“We’ve had an outpouring of caring people helping out with the family,” he said. “If I was an undocumented immigrant, I would want to be moved to Middletown.”

Although the Middletown Freedom City Initiative has communicated with WesACLU and the Wesleyan Refugee Project, they are seeking more involvement from community members and Wesleyan Students.

The group, predominantly white, is also seeking bilingual and undocumented students who can act as liaisons to undocumented immigrants in Middletown.

“We need more representatives from the community we serve,” Clark said.

Students seeking to get involved can contact the group through their Facebook page or by attending the group’s next meeting on Friday, Oct. 6, in Room Two of the Russell Library.

Mason Mandell can be reached at 

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