by Carla Dietz
The “Lights for Liberty” event was fortunate to fall on a beautiful summer Friday night July 12th in Glastonbury CT. The sun was out but it was not particularly hot, the sky was blue and a crowd of 150-200 mostly positive attendees gathered to live music by Ginger Kousen on the front lawn of the spectacular First Church of Christ Congregational (UCC) in town. There was one individual with a “Red Hat” who came out to make his stand but for the most part there was a sense that people were there to support Immigration Reform and because of their dismay at the reports of the treatment of children at facilities in Clint TX, Homestead FL and other Border locations with similar reputations for the neglectful and inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. Lights for Liberty, which was supported by the CTUCC, was held as an information forum and candlelight vigil throughout the state of CT and in other locations in the U.S. with worldwide participation.
As we spilled out into the street from the church lawn, 10 speakers offered their personal perspectives about what we should be doing to get our nation treating human beings in a way that would be considered humane and effective. The speakers included:
Walid Al Abas, a student at UCONN came to CT with his family as a refugee from Syria in 2016. Walid lives with his family in Glastonbury and works at Max Fish in Glastonbury. Walid acknowledged his parents and the sacrifices they had made to bring him to the U.S. and help him to become a medical student here. His was a moving report of a life made better by coming to the U.S.
Dana Bucin an immigration attorney who represents immigrants, including business and family-based visa applicants, asylum seekers, refugees, and detained immigrants. Dana provides multi-lingual legal representation in English, Spanish, French, and Romanian, with a basic knowledge of Italian, German, Hungarian and Latin. In May 2019, Dana was named Attorney of the Year by the CT Law Tribune, and in June 2019 she received the United Action of CT Annual Justice Award for her service to immigrants and the interfaith community.
Debra Cohen has been involved in anti-deportation efforts since 2015 when East Hartford resident Domingo Ferriera was identified for deportation, ultimately sending him to Dominican Republic. Her work includes court accompaniment, support of neighbors who are or have been in sanctuary here in CT, participating in the ACLU CT court watch project and other support of those facing deportation as needed with MIRA and CTSI. She recently returned from a trip with 9 other activists to witness the situation in the desert and at shelters for people waiting to file their initial asylum claims.
Maman Cooper arrived in the United States in 2004 as a Refugee at the age of 8 years old, not knowing English and with no formal schooling. Maman has since graduated from UConn in 2017, is a Hartford area elementary school teacher, and works at Capital Squash, a school enrichment program for youth. Maman is fluent in English, French, two African native languages, and spends time working with the IRIS Ambassador Program which seeks to help people understand the refugee experience.
Rev. Carla Dietz is the Interim Senior Pastor at First Congregational Church in Greenwich CT and on the MACUCC Immigration, Refugee and Asylum Seeker Task Team. She has been active in Civil Rights since 1970, inclusive of Race, Gender, Feminism, Accessibility For All, Gun legislation, Health Care for All and Environmental actions, protests and legislative initiatives in Washington DC, New York, CT and MA. She is in the "Value Our Families" Fly In Legislative Action in D.C. July 16-18. As a Special Educator I feel there is nothing more fundamental to life and liberty and our work for God than the humane, caring treatment of children and the bonds of family.
Representative Jason Doucette is in the CT House of Representatives District 13, Manchester/Glastonbury. He is Acting Chair of the Banking Committee and a member of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee and the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee. Jason is an attorney with the firm of Gagliardi, Doucette & Geraghty. He is a 3rd generation resident of Manchester where he currently resides with his wife Heather, son Edward (Teddy), and son Charlie.
Rev. Larissa Forsythe is the Associate Minister at Congregational Church in South Glastonbury. Larissa served churches in rural Missouri and St. Louis County, involved in various justice initiatives including serving on the Missouri Mid-South Conference Justice Ministry with a focus on Racial Justice. She believes our call to love our neighbor requires us to demand just and equitable systems for all people.
Robyn Guimont from Glastonbury is an avid volunteer in town (Glastonbury Martin Luther King Initiative, South Glastonbury Congregational Church and Glastonbury ABC House are among her multiple activities) she hopes that her work for justice and equality will help spread the value of recognizing those similarities while valuing our differences.
Lisa Muller has been a proud member of United Church of Christ and a social justice advocate for many years.
Leslie Ohta served for two years in the Peace Corps in the Philippines, then 5 years in Japan and was an illegal undocumented alien who was nevertheless covered by Japan's universal health care system. She taught English, worked as an extra in movies, was a copy editor for an electric company and married a Japanese man who was then promptly disinherited by his samurai family. After moving to the US she attended UConn Law, did a clerkship and moved to DC to work in the US Justice Department where she handled a large variety of civil and criminal cases for more than 39 years. At Her last year with the Justice Department she served in Iraq as a Federal Prosecutor working on rule of law and humanitarian issues, including trafficking in persons, juvenile detention and female detention. Since returning to Glastonbury she has become involved with the Glastonbury MLK Community Initiative, the ABC House, South Church, TALK, and the Sheff Movement coalition.
MaryJoan Picone, LCSW, has been a licensed clinical social worker for 29 years. She has worked in a variety of community and clinical settings, with a passion for social justice, focusing on Mexico and Central America. She works with different organizations helping migrants on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border and advocating for humane and just immigration reform. MaryJoan created the Emmaus Migrant Advocacy project- to promote awareness of the economic, health and psycho-social plight of our brothers and sisters in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The project assists in providing for the basic needs of migrants and seasonal workers on both sides of the border and humanitarian aid in the Sonoran desert, in AZ and TX. She has worked in and continues to support a day shelter for migrants and deportees in Nogales, Sonora Mexico, from 2012 to present. The Emmaus Migrant Advocacy Project builds community with migrant and seasonal farm workers here in central CT; joining in grassroots efforts to prevent deportations and to assist with access to medical care, legal aid and psycho-social assimilation
Ginger Kousen, the evening's singer, is an attorney in Marlborough, CT. She has been practicing law since 1986, with her own practice under her maiden name of Virginia L. Ramsey, since 1989. She have been the soprano section leader at First Church Glastonbury for over 20 years and a soloist there since 1985. She was also a member of the refugee committee at First Church Glastonbury, helping to settle a Syrian refugee family in 2016 through IRIS.
All the speakers presented their stories and perspectives with passion for the plight of the immigrant community. Clearly the focus was on meaningful change in immigration laws with a focus on hearing each other’s differences, immigration stories and to the treatment of people with dignity and care.
The evening was organized by CTUCC Legislative Advocate Michele Mudrick who put it together in eight days with the help of Denise Weeks and Leslie Ohta a member of South Church Glastonbury. Michele decided to organize the Glastonbury Lights for Liberty because she felt she needed to do more to bring attention to the human detention camps in our country and the inhuman conditions faced by immigrants seeking asylum in our country.
It was a pleasure to be with this group of enthusiastic people and hopefully, it is just the first of many gatherings to effect positive change in the present U.S. policies toward asylum seekers, immigration and humanity as a whole. For more information on Lights for Liberty and the many action groups you can join to participate in the betterment of immigration click HERE.
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