Updated Friday morning by Reporter Jolene Almendarez
ITHACA, N.Y. — A sit-in at Republican Congressman Tom Reed’s Ithaca office ended Thursday after he showed up for a late-night one-on-one with protesters who refused to leave his office until he spoke to them.
The sit-in was been led by six Catholic workers who insisted that Reed speak to his constituents either in person or via a video chat. Throughout the days they were camped out, people brought the protesters food and took photos pf themselves holding signs asking for Reed — who was in Washington to D.C. — to make an Ithaca appearance. A couple was even legally married at Reed’s office by Mayor Svante Myrick while they waited.
Around 10:40 p.m., protesters got their wish. Reed showed up to his Ithaca office at 401 E. State St. and sat down to talk with them.
Laurie Konwinski, a Catholic Charities employee whose husband has been participating in the sit-in, nearly missed his appearance. After working all day at the charity, she went to spend time with her husband and the protesters around 7:30 p.m. She said she didn’t plan to stay at the office so late, but got into a conversation about the Affordable Care Act with one of Reed’s staffers.
As she was gathering her things to leave, she turned a corner on the fourth floor of the office building and saw Reed, literally, as he was walking through the door to speak with people.
“I was flabbergasted. I was absolutely flabbergasted,” she said. “I don’t think many of us expected him to come here in person. I certainly didn’t.”
Reed later said that he left Washington D.C. late Thursday night to get to his home in Corning, but made stopping in Ithaca to see the protesters a priority because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Below are some of the topics covered during the nearly two-hour meeting with protesters:
Konwinski read a letter to Reed on behalf of Ithacan Neil Golder, who could not stay at the office after the first day because she said he felt ill.
In the letter, Golder says “The compassion efforts to welcome refugees are being thwarted by president Trump’s recent executive order. I believe that this is an excessive and unreasonable fear and that it goes against the American spirit of generosity. I ask that you stop supporting this order, that you speak out against it and that you support legislation to increase the number of refugees, especially from Syria, allowed into our country.”
Konwinski added on to the sentiment, saying Catholic Charities has been one of the leaders on the forefront of bringing refugees to Ithaca.
The Ithaca-based Catholic Charities organization was originally set to bring about 50 refugees to the area from Syria, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bhutan, Burma, Ukraine, Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The list is based on languages already spoken within our community and current, settled, populations from those regions.
And while a family from Afghanistan is set to arrive in Ithaca later this month, Konwinski said the status of other refugees is at risk.
“We had two families assigned to us and we have no idea if they’ll ever come,” she said. “Everything’s completely up in the air…I think the current vetting process is very safe.”
Reed said he agreed with the sentiment that this country was built through the hard work of immigrants and refugees — his own family came to this country from Germany.
“This is, I think, having a conversation on common ground…” he said. “There are real national security concerns and American citizen safety is something I care deeply about.”
Both he and the protesters, he said, seem to agree that there is a need for adequate vetting and border security — though they disagreed about how much was needed. After Trump’s, alleged temporary ban on seven countries coming into the United States, he said he is confident that he expects people to continue to be allowed to come into the country.
Konwinski asked Reed to support increasing the number of refugees the United States accepts. It’s recently been cut from 110,000 per fiscal year set by the Obama administration to 50,000 for the 2017 fiscal year, per Trump’s administration. The United States has already admitted 30,000 refugees for the 2017 fiscal year.
“It’s just such a drop in the bucket,” she said.
Reed did not get a chance to respond to the request before another question was asked.
Sanctuary cities and DACA students
Ducson Nguyen, 2nd Ward Alderperson in the city of Ithaca, told Reed that the Common Council recently made Ithaca a sanctuary city with some teeth, by writing it into the city code and providing employees with clear guidelines.
The ordinance was passed on Feb.2, officials said, based not only on ethical and moral grounds but because data shows that Sanctuary Cities — in comparison to non-Sanctuary Cities — have less crime, higher median rates of income, lower rates of unemployment and lower rates of poverty.
“We are concerned about some of the threats that the administration has made in regard to funding and we feel we are building a stronger community …” he said. “I hope that you’ll have some compassion for our desire to have a safe community where people like they can approach police officers or go to city staff to complain about say their landlords, housing conditions without fear employees of the city will report them…report them to ICE…”
Reed said, “We have an immigration system that is broken and needs to be fixed.”
He said that law enforcement needs to be able to pursue people committing crimes or wanting to do harm to people. He did not address the statistically lower crime rates in cities that openly accept refugees.
But Reed did say that with comprehensive immigration reform, there may come a time when sanctuary cities are no longer needed because people would have better avenues to come to the country legally or obtain some kind of legal status if they’ve come to the country illegally.
Nguyen also said he was worried about students enrolled in school under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives people who came to this country as minors the chance to have deportation deferred and the opportunity to legally work.
Reports throughout the country have stated that DACA students have been taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Reed said that people should be encouraged by comments Trump made yesterday where he said the DACA program would be handled “with heart.”
Trump said during the press conference, “The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me as I love these kids, I love kids, I have kids and grandkids and I find it very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and, you know, the law is rough,” he said. “It’s rough, very very rough.”
Trump did not provide specific changes he plans to make with the program.
An Ithaca Town Hall
Seph Murtagh, 2nd Ward Alderperson in the city of Ithaca, told Reed that he hopes that Thursday night’s conversations would encourage Reed to open the door to having a better relationship with his Ithaca constituency.
“I think that can be really useful for all of us,” Murtagh said.
He said that he remembers what relationships have been like with other national Ithaca representatives, and said he recalls there being a better dialogue with people at the local level.
“One of the things that I hope that you would consider is that you would potentially have a town hall within the city of Ithaca…I can think of several good locations like the GIAC Gym or…maybe the State Theater.” Murtagh said. “We don’t have a very strong relationship with you as our congressional representative. So what I would hope, is that this very kind of informal, spontaneous conversation can serve as a prelude to further dialogue.”
Reed said he is open to keeping the conversation going.
“Ithaca is a great community. It’s a beautiful community,” he said. “Fostering this relationship, I will assure you, is something I am interested in doing and continuing.”
He said he does plan to do a Town Hall in Tompkins County, but he did not commit to a specific location or time frame.
Fox News interview
Tom Reed did an interview with Fox News Wednesday night where he called some of the protesters “extremists” and said he did not know why they were in his office. At the time of the interview, the protesters had spoken to several media outlets and made their concerns known publicly.
“I don’t know exactly what they’re protesting…” Reed said in the interview. He went on to say that while he welcomed the dialogue with constituents and let them stay in the office, their method of being heard is “extremism.”
Several of the protesters demanded an apology on Thursday night.
One woman said, “I want to give you the opportunity to apologize to all of us in this room…it hit hard.”
He said, “To you, I apologize. You are sincere in your efforts. You are passionate about what you’re doing and I respect that.”
He said he had received reports about disruptions in the office and at least one person being escorted out of the building.
The protesters clarified that the person escorted away had a “severe” mental disability and other protesters just didn’t have a space to go to in his office, which unintentionally disturbed some of the medical professionals who share a floor with Reed.
Thursday night’s coverage —
ITHACA, N.Y. — After several days of protesters holding a “sit-in” at Rep. Tom Reed’s office in Ithaca, the congressman showed up to hear them out.
The sit-in started out Tuesday with six Catholic workers holding a “sit-in” until Reed agreed to an in-person or video chat with them. A couple was even legally married at Reed’s office by Mayor Svante Myrick while they waited. The group has stayed at the office and slept there with sleeping bags since Tuesday, waiting for Reed.
On Thursday night, around 10:30 p.m., they got their wish. Reed showed up to his Ithaca office at 401 E. State St. and sat down to talk with them.
So far a group of at least 10 people has discussed Planned Parenthood, Standing Rock and refugees. They asked the congressman to stop supporting President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries. A woman from Catholic Charities said the current vetting process for refugees and immigrants is already very safe.
Many, including Myrick, have asked Reed to host a town hall in Ithaca. The Ithaca Voice also extended an invitation to host a town hall debate, but his office rejected the offer Wednesday.
More people have been showing up as the discussion continues.
Watch a live stream of the discussion below posted by Daniel Joseph Burns on Facebook. Part one is here.
Featured photo by Jolene Almendarez.