Eric Wang

“Me gusta la lima, me gusta limón, pero no me gusta la deportación,” around 400 students and community members shouted on Thursday as they rallied on behalf of Nelson Pinos Gonzalez, an undocumented immigrant father who has taken refuge in a New Haven church for the past 295 days.

The chant — which translates to “I like limes, I like lemons, but I don’t like deportation” — has become a national rallying cry for immigration activists.

At noon on Thursday, Yalies and local New Haven students walked out of class and headed to the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church on the New Haven Green. From there, the protesters proceeded to the New Haven County Courthouse to demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials stop harassing immigrants at the site, before continuing to City Hall to demand the passage of a legally binding sanctuary city ordinance. The demonstration was organized by the immigrant activist group Unidad Latina en Acción, which worked with student activists at Yale and New Haven high schools to encourage the walkouts.

“For a lot of students, their parents are going through similar struggles,” Pinos said in an interview with the News. “It’s important to understand that this fight is not only for me, but for all immigrants across the nation in my situation. In Connecticut alone, there are four others who have taken sanctuary in churches.”

During an ICE check-in in October 2017, Pinos was asked to return permanently to Ecuador by the end of the month. A few weeks later, the manufacturing company that had employed Pinos for 15 years requested that he not come to work until his immigration status was resolved. In November, Pinos sought sanctuary at the church. In 2011, ICE’s then-director John Morton issued a memo directing officers not to enforce deportation orders in “sensitive locations,” such as houses of worship, schools and hospitals.

ICE’s New England public affairs officer did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Pinos told the News that he admires the community’s dedication to the cause.

“I’m always overcome with emotions when I see everyone involved,” he said.

The rally featured speakers affiliated with Unidad Latina en Acción, as well as Pinos’ daughters. The speakers emphasized that families belong together and that the inhumane policies imposed on communities of color should not be upheld.

This is not the first call to action organized by Unidad Latina en Acción in support of Pinos. On Sept. 7, nearly 400 community members rallied on the Green to protest Pinos’ deportations order. The next week, Unidad Latina en Acción — along with other organizations, such as La Casa Cultural at Yale — held a speaker series featuring college- and high school-age female undocumented immigrants.

“Contemplating staying in class over someone’s life is a privilege,” Carson Menkes ’22, a participant in the walkout, said in an interview with the News. “Even after attending the first rally, I knew I wanted to participate again because these issues persist daily. While direct change may not be affected, my action, my presence, shows that people care about Nelson, immigrants and humanity.”

Students from surrounding schools, such as Southern Connecticut State University and Wilbur Cross High School, also walked out of their classrooms on Thursday.

While students took to the streets, some Yale professors tried to accommodate those who wanted to join the protest. Psychology professor Arielle Baskin-Sommers pre-recorded part of her Thursday lecture of “Criminal Minds” — in which nearly 400 students are enrolled — to support students who planned to attend the protest.

“My immediate reaction is that it’s wonderful Yale students are engaging in action,” Baskin-Sommers told the News. “My second reaction was, ‘How do I ensure all students are supported?’”

In the past, Unidad Latina en Acción has spoken out against what it sees as weak city policies toward protecting immigrants from deportation. In February, Unidad Latina en Acción collected signatures from New Haven residents, demanding that the city update and strengthen its sanctuary policies. The petition called for the city to extend a sanctuary policy that currently applies only to police to cover all city employees and officials; protect people’s confidential information, including their sexual orientation, immigration status and status as a victim of sexual violence; limit city communication with immigration authorities to only what is required by law; and refuse to use city resources to detain people based on requests by ICE.

The federal Board of Immigration Appeals — the highest administrative body for enforcing immigration laws — has the power to grant an emergency stay of deportation to Pinos, which would allow him to leave the church and argue his case in court. Unidad Latina en Acción member Vanesa Suarez said Pinos’s case is currently at a standstill.

“I’m calling on all students to join me in the walkout to support my dad so he can be free and come home,” Kelly Pinos, one of Nelson Pinos’ three children and a junior at Wilbur Cross High School, said in a Facebook post promoting the event on Wednesday.

Nelson’s three children are all students enrolled in New Haven public schools.

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu

Jose Garcia | jose.e.garcia@yale.edu