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Rally brings hundreds to Rochester City Hall in support of refugees

Hundreds of people gathered outside Rochester City Hall late Friday afternoon to protest recent actions by the Trump administration on immigration.

With the wind chill factor in the single numbers, it made it almost a necessity for the throng of protestors to huddle together closely near the steps of city hall as they listened to various speakers including Mayor Lovely Warren.

The mayor has been supportive of the concept of Rochester being a “sanctuary city,” helping to preserve the rights of immigrants, and that played well with the crowd for what billed as a “Roc stands with refugees” rally.

Among those protesting was Gabriella Kielbasinski, a St. John Fisher political science student, who feels the new immigration restrictions are just not compassionate.

“I was raised with the values that people are people and you treat others how you want to be treated and if I was in a situation where I didn’t feel safe at my home and for my family’s sake I needed to move, I would hope someone would open their arms to welcome me into their country."

Another demonstrator, Elizabeth Agte of Fairport, feels rallies like this can make a difference.

“I think they do because I think it brings us together, it makes us want to do more. I’ve signed a lot of petitions, I’m writing letters to my representatives every week, I’ve donated money to a lot of action groups and so it helps to sort of have a networking area where we can say, 'what are you doing?'"

Corey Skinner is a teacher with the Rochester City School District and said many of his students are refugees.

"This climate is awful. My students are some of the hardest-working children I've ever come across. And they work all day, they send me messages on the weekend; they care so much about their schooling."

Skinner, an immigrant himself from Canada, said he witnesses how this ban affects his students.

"To hear the rhetoric, and to hear that they're unwelcome when the American dream was their dream, just as much as it is for people that are born here. And to hear it thrown back in their face like that, it’s brutal. We also have a lot of students who still have family overseas. They're just very worried. They want to work hard, they want to do well and I want them to know that we're here to support them."

Mark Reisch was with his family at the rally and said it’s important to bring his children to events like these.

"They’re the future. When we're gone, they're the ones that are going to passing the torch of humanity. They need to be there to say that people are people and they just want to live their lives. That’s what we're trying to teach them."

Kaitlyn Kinney said she hopes to show through gatherings like these that the Rochester community is willing to stand up for each other.

"It’s important to show acceptance in America, especially in this time when we're so separated. To say that even if our administration doesn't stand for you and want to hold you together, we will. The citizens will.”

Temperatures dipped into the lower 20s Friday afternoon, and demonstrator Sean Phelan said it was impressive to still see a big turnout.

"This is the heart of Rochester. The cold weather and the endurance of this cold weather is showing the heart of the people here it really is."

This rally was one of at least three rallies held in Rochester over the last few weeks in response to executive orders and other policies expressed by President Trump and his administration.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.
Denise Young is executive editor of WXXI News.