High School Students Walk Out in Solidarity with Father Fighting Deportation

An interview with a New Haven high school student and excerpt of a speech by an indigenous activist at a support rally for Nelson Pinos, living in a sanctuary church as he fights an ICE deportation order, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

The fight for freedom for an Ecuadorean immigrant who took sanctuary in a New Haven, Connecticut church almost ten months ago has heated up in recent weeks, with two consecutive large rallies on his behalf. Nelson Pinos took refuge in the First and Summerfield Methodist Church after challenging a deportation order from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. His attorney says that after a court in Minnesota refused to reopen his case, he’s now awaiting a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Pinos and his wife have lived in New Haven for 25 years and have three children who attend primary, middle and high school in town. His daughter, Kelly, a junior at Wilbur Cross High School, recently wrote an op-ed published in the New York Times about her family’s ongoing trauma. With the support of Unidad Latina en Accion, an immigrants’ rights group in New Haven, Kelly and others organized a school walkout on Sept. 20 in solidarity with Nelson, which drew several hundred student participants from a number of New Haven schools.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus walked with the students during the protest from the school to the sanctuary church and files this report. We first hear from high school senior Omar Moussa, who explains why he walked out of school on Pinos’ behalf.

OMAR MOUSSA: He got family in here. It’s sad to see a story like that. I know his daughter; she’s in my school. We should help him live his life here. So it’s a good thing to hold (march). Maybe they gonna work with his case.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Is this a permitted march for school, or might you get in trouble for walking out?

OMAR MOUSSA: No, no, his daughter asked the principal to go out. We got permission from the school to go out.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Is this a permitted march for school, or might you get in trouble for walking out? And can I have your name?

OMAR MOUSSA: Omar Moussa.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Is this a permitted march for school, or might you get in trouble for walking out? And where are you from?

OMAR MOUSSA: I’m from Syria. I came here as a refugee two years ago.

CROWD CHANT: What do we want? Nelson’s freedom! When do we want it? Now!

BETWEEN THE LINES: Is this a permitted march for school, or might you get in trouble for walking out? Indigenous activist Norm Clement addressed the crowd from the steps of the First & Summerfield church. His comments were informed by his own experience of family members being separated by U.S. policy toward indigenous peoples.

NORM MOMOWETU CLEMENT: Hey, everyone. My name is Norm Momowetu Clement. I’m a confederated Quinnipiac native and a Penobscot. And in case no one has mentioned this yet today, we are on stolen land. This is stolen land and no one is illegal on stolen land (cheers). Indigenous people is right, and Nelson is an indigenous person to these territories. Just as all people who were born in North America and South America are indigenous people to here (cheers). See what my shirt says? “No borders.”

My people had no borders. People traded freely from the south to the north for thousands of years. It wasn’t until colonialism came along and put up borders and now walls, so that families would be separated. This is nothing new. Families have been being separated for 500 years in these territories – ever since that supposed “discoverer” came here. You know the guy I’m talking about – all you students, you know his name. Christopher Columbus, that murderer, that rapist (boos). He was going to India, supposedly, but his mission was to take advantage of whatever people he came across, and that’s what he did when he came here.

And that oppression hasn’t stopped just because there’s a new governor or a new president in town. That’s a system of white supremacy that we need to take down! (cheers). We need to knock it down from its roots. And that’s all part of what we’re doing, and it’s part of why we fight for Nelson. Nelson belongs here as much as anybody does (cheers). Nelson’s family belongs together (cheers).

The separation of families that is happening, and has been happening specifically under this president but for many, many years, it’s just horrendous. There is so much devastation. You know, we just heard that another 1,500 kids are lost in the system; they can’t be found. That’s on top of the other 1,500 that they found and still can’t reunite with their families. That trauma carries for generation after generation. It doesn’t stop when they go back, when they find their mom and dad. It doesn’t stop. They’re afraid every single night that it’s going to happen again. The trauma that is being caused by this government is a crime against humanity (cheers). We need to really start thinking about those things as we go forward.

I’m just proud to be here today because Nelson has become a friend of mine; his family are friends of mine. But it doesn’t matter whether it’s Nelson or [formerly in sanctuary] Marco Reyes or someone else, like Sujitno [currently in sanctuary, for a year] up in Hartford. We need to bring all these families back together so they can start healing (cheers).

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