News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, October 3, 2019
Castine coalition takes on immigration
Sends support to asylum seekers

At the farmers market

John Cunningham mans a stand at the Castine Farmers Market to raise awareness about the Castine Compassionate Coalition this past summer.

Photo courtesy of Bob Vagt

by Monique Labbe

As immigration issues continue to be a hot button topic across the United States, sometimes resulting in children being separated from their parents and families, one group from Castine has resolved to provide some comfort and support to those affected.

The Castine Compassionate Coalition, which formed in 2018, has been raising money to put together and send out backpacks to 400 asylum seekers in the United States who were awaiting court dates, according to Bob Vagt, an active member of the coalition. The group has had a stand at the Castine Farmers Market this summer, as well as a display at Witherle Library, and has engaged in other community activities to raise those funds, and, according to Vagt, has been able to reach the two-thirds mark of their goal.

When the issue of children being separated from their parents at the United States borders came to light, Vagt said the group of about 18 regular members met at the Trinity Episcopal Church to discuss how they could engage and be effective.

“We looked in several directions, one to Catholic charities in Maine, and also looked to the southern border,” said Vagt.

The first organization to respond was the International Rescue Committee in Tucson, Ariz. The group made it clear that it do not want their involvement to be strictly monetary, but wanted their actions to express their support instead. From that, the idea the for backpacks was born.

“[These people] were typically put on buses and sent to various family members and friends around the country, often leaving with only the clothes on their backs,” said Vagt. “Ergo, the backpacks were a physical expression of Castine support.”

In an effort to get a more “personal engagement,” Vagt said the group has also renewed its contract with Catholic Charities, which is the entity in Maine that deals with immigration.

“They have indicated that there is a way for us to be engaged, particularly with seniors who are immigrants living currently in Maine as they go through the process of gaining citizenship,” he said.

The group plans to meet with a representative from Catholic Charities at the end of the month to further discuss the group’s involvement.