On Thursday, dozens of students gathered on the back steps of Usdan for a rally in support of Nelson Pinos, a New Haven resident and father of three who has been living in the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church for almost 300 days to avoid deportation by federal immigration officials.
The rally was organized in solidarity with the hundreds of students from Wilbur Cross High School, Common Ground High School, Yale University, and Southern Connecticut State University who walked out of class on Thursday morning and marched to the downtown New Haven church in support of Pinos. These walkouts came in the wake of a rally on Sept. 7 which saw around 500 people congregating outside the church in support of people taking sanctuary around the state.
Pinos came to the U.S. from Ecuador in 1992 and has lived in Connecticut for almost 20 years. He entered the church last November to avoid deportation and has remained there ever since, waiting for his removal order to be reviewed by the Board of Immigration Appeals in Bloomington, Minn. Attendees of the New Haven rally demanded that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) grant Pinos a stay of removal while his case is being appealed. This would allow him to exit the church without fear of deportation. He is currently wearing an ICE ankle monitor, so any movement puts him in danger.
Kelly Pinos, Nelson Pinos’ oldest daughter, attends Wilbur Cross High School and participated in the New Haven walkouts. In an op-ed she penned in the New York Times on Aug. 9, Pinos shared what her family has gone through since her father’s deportation and reflected on what she has experienced from those who want to deport people like her father.
“I really don’t understand why people in this country hate us so much,” she wrote. “This year, I’ve realized that there aren’t as many good people as I thought there were. The truth is I’ve never seen so much hatred. The people who support the deportation of undocumented immigrant parents with no criminal records still think we are all rapists or gang members. They don’t see the good. We work hard. We do the jobs Americans don’t want to do. My father cares for this country and his community, and all he wants is to have a better life for his family.”
Marcelo Salas ’19 was one of the organizers of the Wesleyan rally. He was contacted by Mary Claire Whelan, a Yale student who played a role in coordinating the walkouts in New Haven, who knew that Salas serves on the board of Ajúa Campos, Wesleyan’s Latinx student group. They spoke on the phone and determined that the best way for Pinos’ case to receive maximum media attention would be for Wesleyan students to organize their own demonstration in solidarity with the events taking place in New Haven. Whelan sent over her planning documents, which Salas, along with fellow organizers Julio Evans ’21, Margarita Fuentes ’21, Madeline Jones ’19, and Griselda Solis ’21, used to plan the rally on campus.
At the gathering, Salas and Evans read a statement they received from Whelan and then edited to be Wesleyan-specific.
“As we speak, Yale students are walking out of classes to demand: 1) that the Board of Immigration Appeals gives Nelson a stay of removal, 2) that ICE stops intimidating and seizing folks from CT courthouses and 3) that New Haven make official its status as sanctuary city,” Salas and Evans stated. “This coordinated walkout has the potential to make real change, which is why we are rallying to draw state- and nation-wide attention to Nelson’s situation.”
Salas saw the rally as the most practical and effective way for students to show support for Pinos and the walkouts in the New Haven. The participants of the New Haven walkouts, after rallying at the church, continued on to City Hall and the U.S. District Court to demand that Pinos be granted a stay of removal and that city officials formalize New Haven’s status as a sanctuary city. Salas and the other organizers’ hope was that the event would stand as part of a coordinated, statewide effort to pressure the Board of Immigration Appeals to review Pinos’ case.
“I know that many Connecticut residents are repulsed by both Trump’s immigration policy and ICE’s soulless and often illegal actions across the country,” Salas wrote in a message to the Argus. “This rally shows that Wesleyan students will not stand by as the [R]ight makes it its mission to send folks to death and peril in regions it played a huge part in destabilizing. The fact that younger folks are rallying around this issue to me shows that this culture shift is visibly present at Wesleyan and beyond.”
Whelan, the Yale student who worked with Salas to plan the rally, said in an interview with the Argus that members of Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), a New Haven-based immigrant rights organization, and students at Yale were in touch with New Haven high schoolers to coordinate the rally. ULA has organized direct actions and public campaigns to protest and halt the deportation of a number of Connecticut residents.
Whelan described the process of planning the action on Thursday and the memorable moment when high schoolers occupied a Yale lecture hall and got students to walk out of class.
“[W]e did dorm storming and canvassing, and we did a lot of outreach to professors and faculty members to try to get them on board,” she said. “The best moment for me was when about 100-150 Wilbur Cross students walked into a biochem lecture…It was amazing. They stormed this biochem lecture, took over the space and spoke, and got all of these pre-med students to walk out.”
Whelan was excited by the fact that the rally was a collaboration between different organizations and academic institutions. She also saw the action as telling of the kinds of issues college students want to fight for.
“To work with students from SCSU and students at Wesleyan, it’s so clear that this is an issue that’s on college students’ minds,” she said. “And people see [these things] on the news about family separations and to know that it’s happening in your city…It’s so scary and powerful…And I think it’s a good reminder that there are actually people taking sanctuary all over Connecticut.”
She spoke about the role of Thursday’s events in relation to the greater advocacy work going on to ensure that Pinos can stay with his family in the U.S. She wants future actions to include more people so that the Board of Immigration Appeals feels pressured to finally take action on Pinos’ case. She also spoke of the grim reality of what being in sanctuary means for Pinos.
“There’s a really crazy dynamic that happens sometimes when people take sanctuary that the Board of Immigration Appeals or the Courts put it as a lower priority because there’s some sense of safety because ‘sanctuary’ is a really nice word,” she said. “But actually, Nelson is imprisoned in this church.”
The rally at Wesleyan ended with a solidarity photo which was passed on to ULA for use in future organizing efforts.
William Halliday can be reached at email@example.com.