A church sign and a sea of cars tell all in Thetford, VT.

Packed House in a Vermont Sanctuary

Submitted 6 months ago
Created by
Dave Celone

Packed House in a Vermont Sanctuary

“Our Borders Our Children” was the topic of the evening on Wednesday night, June 20, 2018 at the Thetford (VT) Congregational Church with VT Congressman Peter Welch skyping in via internet to offer his views on the current refugee and family separation crisis afflicting America.

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The 10 main takeaways? 

1.     These are not migrant children. These children are refugees and asylum seekers at our borders who have the right to request asylum in the United States.

2.     Congressmen Welch offered his gratitude to the audience and urged everyone to call the White House with their opinions. The number he gave is: 202-456-1414. He called “appalling” the current situation of children being separated from their parents at our borders, getting placed in detention centers while parents are sent back to their countries of origin. Calling the White House, said Welch, “is the only way to express absolute opposition” to the policies currently in place that allow for families to be separated. He encouraged everyone to keep advocating. During his recent trip to visit a detention center nobody could answer his question of how a separated child would be reunited with his parents.

3.     Susan Sussman of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy’s office quoted Leahy as saying “positive change can happen even during the Trump administration,” and stressed that mass incarceration of families is not the answer to the refugee situation. Sussman said the President’s zero tolerance policy is making criminal those who cross at any point other than recognized border crossings. It becomes a misdemeanor if they try, punishable by detention and family separations, which goes well beyond penalties for other misdemeanors. This affects us here in VT because anyone in the country unlawfully—even someone who has merely overstayed a valid visa by a few weeks—is subject to detention and deportation.

4.     Annelise Orleck, the moderator and a Thetford resident, held her head in her hands as Welch told of a Guatemalan woman who was threatened with death and/or rape if she didn’t pay back money she had borrowed from some unsavory characters. Out of fear, she decided to leave the U.S. This woman was separated from her 13-year-old daughter during detention processing. Other stories like this were conveyed to people’s great dismay.

Congressman Peter Welch on the big screen, along with panelists (l-r) Gregory-Davis, Chin, and Orleck at top right  greeted me as I walked into the church. Susan Sussman was at the podium out of view.

5.     A community member offered that the U.S. is ignoring the 1951 Refugee Convention of which it is a party country. Welch agreed and added that because the President has blocked border crossings, refugees and asylum seekers are now being treated as criminals.

6.     One community member asked [rhetorically, perhaps] how to stop the media from treating the president as if he was the main highlight every day by showcasing him in headlines day after day after day.

7.     Some children from Texas are being sent to Washington State after separation from their parents, and one group of lost refugee girls turned up at a detention center in Harlem this morning.

8.     The United Nations and the Red Cross have proven systems in place to track refugee children but no mention of asking these two organizations for help has been in the news.

9.     It is now the time for civil disobedience according to Rev. John Gregory-Davis from the Meriden, NH UCC who advocated passionately for non-violent action. Davis said separation of refugee children from their families is the “ugly face of our nation” that we have chosen not to look at for far too long. He went on to claim that white supremacy has crippled us by numbing our hearts to refugees. He also made it clear that unless we are of First Nations heritage, we/our families nearly all came to this nation illegally, as refugees, and/or as asylum seekers. He implored people to cry out and demand this situation change.  

10.   Ray Chin, PhD, Child and Family Clinical Psychologist and a Thetford resident spoke about Toxic Stress and its impact on children as being adverse and lifelong leading to alcohol and drug addiction, depression and suicide, along with many other ugly issues. Toxic Stress includes physical/emotional neglect, and separation, divorce, and/or incarceration of a family member. These all lead to lifelong behavioral problems. He said the U.S. is the only country out of 197 UN member countries that has not ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of a Child, and that the U.S. has recently pulled out of the Human Rights Council.

The outsized audience included all ages, from newborns with their young mothers and fathers, to the more gray-haired community members, and all ages in between.

It was a packed house with standing room only by the time I arrived at 7:15 pm, and already the church was warming up to this heated forum topic. Windows had to be opened for some fresh air.

Sanctuary in action.

Perhaps one of the oldest community members stood up and made her plea to everyone gathered in the church stating, “Make sure you’re registered to vote.” It was a powerful reminder that we do have the power to create change not just at the grass roots level, but all the way to the top.

For more information about what you can do to help children being separated from their families, heed Congressman Welch’s request to call the White House directly at 202-456-1414. You can march and protest on June 23rd in Burlington, VT. For more info. google World Refugee Day, Vermont Agency of  Human Services or Click Here.  Other marches are planned June 20th thru June 30th around the country.  June 20th is the UN's World Refugee Day—Click Here to learn more. There is also a Central VT Refugee Action Network page on Facebook. Or just google "refugee vt" and you'll find plenty of resources and ways to get involved and make your voice heard.

Sussman delivers her powerful message about the travesty of our nation separating children from parents as she waits for Welch to appear on screen.


Dave Celone is a writer, poet, artist, and consultant who lives alternately in Vermont and New Hampshire. He covers plenty of interesting topics, from food to politics to the natural beauty of our world. Click Here to follow him each time he publishes, or visit this link: http://dailyuv.us11.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=3b0a3ea19ca8d7b499b2203de&id=8d286dabb7 to register to receive his dailyuv.com posts for free!  


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