The weather was clear and crisp on Sunday morning as more than 2,300 runners charged through East Rock Park in support of New Haven refugees.

New Haven’s annual 5K Run for Refugees, hosted by refugee resettlement agency Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, started at 10 a.m. at Wilbur Cross High School and drew participants from 40 states and four countries. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., voiced their support for refugees in speeches at the event, which took place less than a month after President Donald Trump announced that he would seek to abolish the family reunification policy for immigrants, and a little more than a year after Trump released an executive order banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries. The race’s $32 registration fee raises money to help with resettlement, but Malloy and Blumenthal said the race also sends an important political message to Washington, D.C., and the world.

“You are sending a massive message around the world: We are Americans. We take in folks who need our help. We don’t subject people to murder. We don’t send them back to slavery or to be raped,” Malloy said to the crowd of runners and supporters during the opening ceremony of the 5K race.

Blumenthal, who has attended the annual race for refugees for the last 11 years, told the News that Connecticut is at the forefront of the fight for immigrants. He noted that New Haven’s 5K is one of the only major races in Connecticut and the only one in the state that raises money for refugees. He added that Wilbur Cross teaches refugees English and provides them with food, shelter and clothing when they arrive in the U.S. and said he hoped to see those efforts replicated elsewhere.

Will Kneerim, director of education and employment for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, said his organization’s 36-person staff helps organize the annual event, along with volunteers and interns. He added that the community engagement team works nonstop for weeks before the event to set up every detail of the race. Last year’s race had the same number of runners as this year and raised $200,000 for the organization and refugees, Kneerim said.

Blumenthal said there is no limit to the amount of money needed to resettle refugees but added that he believes this event will continue growing in popularity because the country as a whole recognizes the importance of welcoming immigrants and refugees. Blumenthal pointed to public outrage about the elimination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the changes to the family reunification policy as reasons for the large volume of support at the race Sunday.

Kneerim said recent immigration changes have inspired a desire for refugee support in the New Haven population, which was supplemented by participants from 40 states and 4 countries at the 5K race. He said the United States usually takes in 80 thousand to 90 thousand refugees each year, but that Trump has announced the country will take only 45,000 refugees in 2018 and that the federal government is on track to only take in only a fourth of that number this year.

Sam Montclair, a North Haven runner who won the 5K race, said he was happy to have participated in a race to advance his running career and to raise money for a valuable cause. He finished race with a time of 15 minutes 31 seconds and a pace of five minutes per mile.

Wilbur Cross High School is located at 181 Mitchell Drive.

Christina Carrafiell |