During a protest Friday night, clergy, elected officials and members of the public expressed outrage over the treatment of migrants and refugees at the southern border, but perhaps no one was as clear and succinct as Emily Rosenbaum.
“1982 was the year my stepmother took my toothbrush away. That was the year that I started sleeping on the floor. That was the year when the food got less and worse, and that was the year that I went to school dirty, in unwashed clothes and dirty underwear,” Rosenbaum told about 70 people who gathered at the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe to brave the rain and make their voices heard.
“My teacher said, ‘No. Enough. This is not how we treat human beings and it’s sure not how we treat children,’” said Rosenbaum, who is president of the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe.
“When I see see children being treated this way, I will say something,” she said. “I will not do what my neighbors did and stay quiet. I am here to say, ‘No. Enough.’ If it was abuse in 1982, it is abuse today.”
Rosenbaum led a chant of “No. Enough,” a succinct distillation of the anger and sadness expressed by the slate of speakers and the signs held by the assembled crowd.
Rosenbaum’s story is stunningly similar to the conditions faced by unaccompanied children being held in detention centers on the southern U.S. border, where unwashed children sleep on the floor and the Trump administration has argued in court that they don’t need toothbrushes.
In contrast, state Rep. Avram Patt, D-Worcester, described his parents’ arduous journey as refugees who fled Poland in the 1930s, traveling across the Soviet Union and the Pacific Ocean before landing in Seattle.
Rather than being locked in cages, they were welcomed, Patt said.
“I think about the people who are escaping right now and I think about how it would be if this country was more welcoming,” Patt said. “These people are escaping terrible things and threats on their lives and when they get to our border, we should treat them with more respect than they are getting.”
State Rep. Dan Noyes, D-Wolcott, is also upset by the treatment of migrants and refugees at the southern border.
“We’re a better country than this and we should be respectful of people who want to immigrate here and make sure they feel welcome here, and how we’re behaving at the border, it’s not appropriate,” Noyes said.
Friday night’s protest was one of 600 around the country, including one in Johnson, and came two days before agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement began a nationwide sweep to capture people who have been ordered to leave the country.
In Vermont, ICE agents arrested three farm workers on June 23 as they were on their way home from Walmart in Newport, where they had gone to send money home to their families.
The protest in Stowe drew Virginia Jenkins and Tom Anastasio, both of Hyde Park, who held a sign bearing the Bible verse Matthew 25:44, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’”
“The situation is getting out of hand,” Anastasio said. “We’re not solving the immigration problem. We’re exacerbating it, we’re causing a lot of grief in the world and we’d like to see it stop.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico and met people who had worked in the United States to support their families in Mexico and this is really close to our hearts,” Jenkins said.
“It’s really offensive to characterize these people that we know as rapists and murderers,” Anastasio said. “It’s just not the way it is. These are family people who are doing their best to keep things going for themselves and their families, and it’s a shame that they are being characterized the way that they are.”
President Trump referred to Mexicans as rapists the day he declared his candidacy in 2015. In 2018, when discussing immigrants and refugees during a meeting with California residents who oppose sanctuary cities, Trump said, “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
In addition to voicing their frustration, protesters learned how they can take action locally. Currently, an asylum-seeking family of four is looking for long-term housing in Vermont. Anyone who can help is asked to email Jan Steinbauer at email@example.com.
On Aug. 21-24, cyclists will ride their bikes 160 miles from Montpelier to the ICE detention center in Dover, N.H. For more information, email Vermont Interfaith Action at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is also an online petition seeking the release of the three farm workers in Newport: bit.ly/freethefarmworkers.