Hundreds rally for immigrants

Four Freedoms Coalition hosts Pittsfield demonstration

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PITTSFIELD — The young Hispanic man in his early 20s hesitated when a reporter asked for his information.

He was on Park Square at the Stand Out For Immigration rally organized by the Four Freedoms Coalition on Saturday afternoon.

"You're OK, you know?" he said, gesturing at a reporter. "And these people here are all OK, you know?

"But," said the man from a small town in South County, "In my town, there are people who aren't OK. So I'm going to pass [on giving his name]. But this [event] is good. This is great."

More than 800 protesters chanted, held signs and waved at passing motorists on Saturday afternoon's rally, which was held at Park Square. But as much as there was enthusiasm and good cheer, there was certainly a layer of angst, particularly on the part of people who were not born in America, or whose parents were not born in America.

"Just today, I've heard stories from refugees," said Sherwood Guernsey, one of the organizers of Saturday's event. There is real fear out there."

This past week, President Donald Trump has signed a series of executive orders calling for more aggressive vetting of immigrants and refugees,and outright bans of immigrants from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

Late Saturday, a federal judge in New York issued an emergency order temporarily barring the U.S. from deporting people from nations subject to Trump's travel ban, according to the Associated Press. The ruling stopped short of ruling on the constitutionality of Trump's executive action.

In addition, Trump also signed an executive order to begin constructing a wall along the Mexican border.

These steps, say local immigration advocates, represent a direct threat to local and national immigrants of all nationalities.

"The reason we're here is because we feel the president's executive orders don't represent real American values," said Meghan Whilden, another of the organizers.

The event, said Whilden, was organized in about 48 hours.

"Pretty good turnout for being organized in two days," she said.

About half the protesters bore various pro-immigration signs, such as "Immigration is the foundation of America!" and "Immigrants are welcome in the U.S.!"

In addition Guernsey manned a bullhorn and shouted slogans, including "No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!"

The crowd ringed the green at Park Square. The entire one-hour event was free of controversy or problems. Passing cars honked their support.

The Four Freedoms Coalition formed after Trump's election in response to what organizers said are threats to the four freedoms as defined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his speech to Congress in 1941, freedom of speech, freedom of religious expression, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

James Birge, president of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, led a contingent of about a dozen teachers, administrators and students to Saturday's event.

"As a liberal arts institution, I think we have to present a sense that all are welcome."

"We reject," said Guernsey, "the concept that only certain people are allowed here."

Safi Alsebai, a student from Bard College of Simon's Rock in Great Barrington is a resident of the United States with parents from Syria. They now live in Arkansas, he said.

Alsebai admitted that the past several days have been a surreal experience for his family.

"It just seems so natural for people to want to come to the United States," he said.

He pointed out that the seven countries singled out by Trump in his executive order don't pose a threat to the country.

"They're the countries we're bombing," he said. "It feels as though [Trump] isn't really putting forth laws to protect Americans."

"It's kind of a fantasy world," agreed John Sanchez, from Vermont. Sanchez's mother and father were born in El Salvador and came to the United States 40 years ago. He was born here. "The president is catering to people's fears. Fears of illegals and fears of what they might do. Not what they have done. It's a little much."

Reach staffer Derek gentile at 413-496-6251.


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