When the U.S. Supreme Court recently applied the brakes to President Obama’s executive order to shield more immigrants from deportation, it was a “sad day” for many of those in the undocumented population, but hardly a fatal blow to those seeking to revamp immigration policy.
“It (Obama’s order) was a small patch on something bigger that needs to be fixed,” said Julio Lopez-Varona, lead coordinator for Make The Road CT, an immigrant advocacy and assistance organization based in Bridgeport.
The battle cry “undocumented, unafraid, here to stay” continues to be expressed with fervor as organizations such as CT Students for a Dream, Make the Road CT and the statewide coalition Connecticut Immigration Rights Alliance pursue changes in deportation policy and the opening of a smoother pathway to citizenship at public events such as the recent protests in Hartford and Bridgeport.
While these rallies were designed to be a visible expression of disapproval with current deportation practices, they also provided an opportunity to reassure those at risk of removal from this country that their cause is very much alive.
At the same time that there is a recognition that the Supreme Court setback was a bump in the road and there is far to go, one of the state’s most active advocacy group also is taking note of what has been achieved so far.
On July 23, CT Students for a Dream will hold an UndocuGrad Ball in New Haven as a fund-raiser for its scholarships to undocumented students and to celebrate five years of Connecticut granting in-state tuition status, which has helped many undocumented students attend state colleges.
A few weeks ago, however, members of CT Student for A Dream were in a less celebratory mood and focusing more on the bigger picture as they participated in a street-blocking protest in front of the federal courthouse on Main Street in Hartford. The group was represented in the seven men and two women, some born in this country, who were chosen ahead of time and submitted to arrest for disorderly conduct.
The message that the Hartford protesters wanted to convey June 27 was that “the government has done nothing to address immigration issues, so don’t deport people if no policies are set,” said Stefan Keller, a college access coordinator for CT Students for a Dream who also has served as a spokesperson for CIRA.
In addition, the protesters wanted to underscore their disappointment with the treatment of undocumented immigrants during Obama’s presidency. During his administration the government has “deported the most people ever,” said Lopez-Varona.
Keller, using United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement website figures, estimated that more than 2.4 million immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, have been removed since Obama became president in 2009.
CIRA was pleased by the widespread media coverage for its “peaceful civil disobedience” in Hartford last month, according to Keller.
Both Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and U.S. Congressman John Larson, whose district includes much of central Connecticut, issued statements in the days after the Hartford rally urging comprehensive immigration reform and expressing disappointment with the Supreme Court decision.
“Children raised in America deserve a legal path to remain here,” said Larson, a Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.
The participants in the Hartford protests included ACLU CT, Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D), CT Working Families, Junta for Progressive Action (New Haven), Make the Road CT (Bridgeport), Manos Unidas (New Britain), Ministerio de Hermandad (Meriden), Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Unidad Latina en Accion New Haven (ULA), and United Action CT (UACT).
Several government and political leaders, primarily Republicans, did not respond to requests for comments on the Hartford protest.
However, a spokesperson for Clay Cope, a Republican from Sherman who is running against Rep. Elizabeth Esty in the Fifth District, pointed to an issue statement on the candidate’s website Here, Cope cites the “urgency” of reforming and streamlining the immigration system, citing the threat of terrorism, the needs to stop the influx of “illegal” immigrants, and that “our southern borders” must be secured and that existing laws must be enforced.
Cope said he has “close friends who arrived illegally” and expressed “compassion for those undocumented immigrants who want to correct their status.” However, the Republican also said, “We cannot reward those who did not respect the laws of our country.”
Leaders for various immigration groups indicated recently that they are still formulating plans for what role they will play leading up to the November election, but their general consensus that this vote looms as a potential game-changer with the presidency and Congress, as well as the future composition of the Supreme Court at stake.
“We will be sure to combat the hateful rhetoric coming from (the likely Republican presidential candidate Donald) Trump and Trump-like candidates in Connecticut,” said Lucas Codognolla, a leader of CT Students for A Dream and one of the nine protesters submitting to arrest in Hartford.
Another priority in the coming months is the ongoing effort to inform the immigrant community what its rights are regarding wages and education, said Lopez-Varona, a Puerto Rico-born attorney.
There also is the need to communicate to undocumented immigrants what the Supreme Court decision means and that the four-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was unaffected, according to Keller.
The Obama Administration had planned to expand the DACA protections, which originally allowed qualifying undocumented students, those who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and were under 31 years old in 2012, to apply for two-year renewable permits to stay in this country.
The DACA extension, which along with a Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, would have expanded eligibility to immigrants over the age of 31 and lengthened the stay to three-year renewable permits.
The Bridgeport demonstration, which was held a few hours before the Hartford protest and included about two dozen participants, according to Lopez-Varona, focused on several issues, especially the city’s lack of immigrant-friendly services compared to Hartford and New Haven for its large population of undocumented immigrants.
Make the Road CT is leading the push for Bridgeport to become what is called a “sanctuary city.” This designation would mean undocumented residents would be issued photo IDs to access city services and would be less likely to be submitted for deportation.
Lopez-Varona said money was allocated for the ID program and not spent during the administration of Mayor Bill Finch, and the rally June 27 was a “call out” to the new Mayor Joseph Ganim to do something to help make Bridgeport ” a safe and good place for immigrants.”
A request for information about the status of the sanctuary measure was acknowledged by the Ganim administration, but after two weeks no reply was forthcoming
Although large parts of California, Texas, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey are designated as sanctuaries, Hartford and New Haven are the only two sanctuary cities in Connecticut and this was one reason the state capital was chosen for a protest, where it was expected people would be arrested.
The recent split decision by the Supreme Court left in place a Texas court decision which has been used in 26 states to block the president’s executive order that would have created a new program, Deferred Action of Parents of Americans (DAPA) which would have applied to parents whose children who are citizens or legal residents.
According to U.S. ICE, during 2015 there were more than 235,000 removals, “the movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States. This was the lowest total since 2008 when Obama became president. The leading countries of origin were Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
More than 165,000 of those people removed were apprehended at or near the border or ports of entry. Of the more than 69,000 detained and deported from the interior of the country, ICE said 91 percent were people previously convicted of crimes.
The 2015 total of interior removals compares to 237,000 in 2009 and has dropped dramatically since 2012, the year DACA was introduced.
Codognolla, in a statement prepared before the Hartford protest, said he was blocking the street to oppose “the criminalization of immigrant communities of color, against this police state that terrorizes our communities, breaks up families and deports people to their death.”
Codognolla, who is from Brazil, underscored his commitment to his “dream” by stating: “I am undocumented, unafraid, and here to stay!”
Tickets for CT Students for a Dream’s UndocuGrad Ball can be purchased at Bit.ly/C4DUndocuGradBall and start at $35, although larger donations can be made to cover the cost of up to one class at a state university. The evening will include food, refreshments, wine, a silent auction.