By JOHN T. WARD
Chanting “Up, up with education, down, down with deportation,” waving American flags and carrying banners that read “Immigrants built this nation,” participants gathered around the Christmas tree at Riverside Gardens Park, where they heard an expression of moral support from the borough police department.
Brenda Codallos addressing the crowd in Riverside Gardens Park. Below right, English and Spanish versions of the statement from police Chief Darren McConnell, which Sergeant Juan Sardo read to the crowd. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
Sergeant Juan Sardo, a Venezuelan immigrant, read a statement on behalf of Chief Darren McConnell, who was unable to attend, assuring immigrant residents that police “are here to help, protect and serve the entire community, regardless of anyone’s background or status.
“I want you to know that all the men and women of the department are proud to serve such a diverse community,” Sardo said through a bullhorn in both English and Spanish, “and that we will always strive to do so in a fair and just manner, treating everyone with dignity and respect.”
Brenda Codallos, Ozzie Rodriguez and Alvaro Aguilar, who organized the event under the name Awaken Community, told redbankgreen in an advance statement that the aim of the event was “to bring dignity and respect for the undocumented community. We are workers, neighbors, and families who are the backbone of this country. We are not just the future of this country, but we are also the present workers that it depends on.”
Awaken Community, they said, “was started by young people affected by President Trump’s September 5th killing of the DACA program.” The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, was created by executive order of then-President Barack Obama in 2012, and gave immigrants who came to the United States as undocumented minors temporary protection from immediate deportation and permits to work here legally.
The Trump administration has announced plans to rescind the DACA program, putting the nearly 800,000 so-called Dreamers at risk of deportation, many to countries they left as babies.
On the march from the borough train station to Riverside Gardens Park via Monmouth, Broad and West Front streets, marchers chanted, “No wall, no fear, immigrants are welcome here” as downtown shoppers stood by, some snapping photos and clapping.
At the park, speakers addressed the need to continue the DACA program.
“It it wrong to take away the productive future of 800,000 young people who are America,” said Holly Kluck, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at the Red Bank Middle School. “Red Bank is America. Immigrants are America.”
“The owner’s certificate for our nation starts with three words: ‘We the people,'” 19th-district state Assemblyman and 2017 gubernatorial hopeful John Wisniewski told the crowd. “It doesn’t make a distinction about where you were born.”
As he and other spoke, a man who described himself as the event’s only counter-protester stood among the crowd holding a sign decorated with snowflakes and holly berries above his head. It read, “All I want for Christmas is Deportation.”
Anna Aguirre, a borough resident and Brookdale Community College student who was born in the United States to parents who remain here undocumented, told redbankgreen she attended the rally to help address the fear of deportation.
“It’s scary, because you don’t know what’s going to happen when you answer the door,” she said.