Jacob Stern

Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., visited New Haven Friday afternoon to meet with constituents about major issues that have arisen in the two weeks since President Donald Trump took office.

Murphy made his first stop at the New Haven Central Labor Council in Fair Haven just before 4 p.m. to discuss President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, with a crowded hall of Connecticut educators. In the evening, Murphy joined a group of Mosque leaders and other Muslims from across Connecticut at Yale Law School to talk about Trump’s executive order on immigration as well as other problems facing the Muslim community under the new administration. At both events, Murphy stressed the importance of political action not just by elected officials but by citizens.

“I want to fight this hand and hand with you,” Murphy told the approximately 30 Mosque leaders. “This is about political action at every level.”

Standing before about 70 educators, Murphy discussed the strategy for blocking DeVos’ confirmation, how to fight her if the Senate confirms her and which of her policies opponents should resist most. Throughout the event, he emphasized the need to keep education separate from considerations of profit.

Audience members voiced a number of concerns about DeVos, including her inexperience, her support for school vouchers and her potential conflicts of interest.

“I think she will be a startling disaster,” said Jacob Remes ’02, a history professor at New York University. “For someone who has spent her life meddling in education as a billionaire, she knows remarkably little about what it is. It seems like the only thing she knows about public education is that she’s against it.”

Others in attendance said they liked how Murphy focused on how citizens can affect change. Both Louise Shaw, an assistant professor of special education at Southern Connecticut State University, and Dina Secchiaroli, an education specialist at the Area Cooperative Educational Services, said the Senator’s focus on grassroots political action appealed to them.

One New Haven County high school teacher, who requested she remain anonymous so as to keep her political views private, said she appreciated Murphy’s openness.

“I think that Senator Murphy was very realistic and I think that he was forthright in his comments,” said the teacher. “I think that he shared the importance of people understanding the process and understanding what we would need to do going forward if Ms. DeVos was to pass through and become the education cabinet member.”

Just a few hours later, Murphy arrived at the law school, where he offered some brief remarks before answering questions on an array of issues, ranging from Trump’s executive order on immigration to Islamophobia in elementary schools.

Since Trump assumed the presidency on Jan. 20, Murphy has emerged as a leading voice of opposition in the Senate, especially on issues relating to refugees and immigration. On the day the president issued his immigration ban, Murphy responded with a Huffington Post op-ed titled “How Trump Just Made America Less Safe.” The following week he introduced legislation to block the ban.

Murphy did not mince words on Friday when describing the United States’ diminishing role as an international moral leader.

“We are shrinking today,” he said. “We are not respected in the world today. We are laughed at. What we are doing today is criminally immoral.”

Farhad Memon, the Connecticut chairperson of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and one of Yale Law event’s chief organizer, said the gathering was intended primarily as a chance for Murphy to listen.

“We wanted to get together with Senator Murphy to discuss concerns that the community has at large,” Memon told the News. “He’s someone who’s out there on the Hill advocating for the rights of all Americans, but this was a way for him to hear directly from perhaps a constituency that is directly affected by everything that’s going on.”

While he appreciated Murphy’s realism and acknowledged the limitations of the Senator’s office, Memon said he hoped the Murphy would exercise the “power of the bully pulpit” on behalf of the Muslim community. The community’s job, Memon said, will be to press Murphy to advocate for it even when he might not feel “comfortable” doing so.

For Sajjad Khan, a Bangladeshi immigrant who now lives in New London, the meeting offered a chance to air his grievances about the Trump administration’s “civil right violations” and to show his support for Murphy. Khan said he was pleased with the message Murphy delivered and thought the Senator spoke earnestly. Still, Khan expressed concern about the ways in which American attitudes toward Muslims have changed recently.

“I came here as an immigrant, and then I became a citizen,” he said. “I am now feeling that I am not a U.S. citizen anymore. I’m a foreigner living in my own home.”