Three young people from Connecticut, each born in Latin America and an undocumented student, are spending this week in what, for them, is “the belly of the beast:” the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
“These are the people who want to deport us,” said Eric Cruz, a University of Connecticut student who was born in Mexico, about the Republicans eager to anoint Donald Trump as their presidential candidate.
The three are leaders of Connecticut Students for a Dream and are among the 70 immigrant students brought to Cleveland by United We Dream Action, a national immigrant-led coalition of young people.
The students’ primary goal is to bring attention to what they see as the dangers posed by a Trump presidency and to demand “an end to toxic politics, an end to deportations, of police brutality, and of Islamophobia.”
At the core of their message is that “the Trump candidacy is built on hatred” and that “is not the country we want to live in,” said Laura Veira-Ramirez, a Colombia-born student from Norwalk who will enter Harvard this fall.
The third student from Connecticut is Yenimar Cortes, who came to this country from Mexico at the age of two and recently graduated from high school in New Haven.
“We want to show people here and everywhere what a Trump presidency means in terms of hatred,” said Cruz who is heading to Eastern Connecticut State University to study biology.
So far, the Connecticut group and immigrant students from at least five other states have donned orange shirts, the representative color for United We Dream, and were part of racially diverse interest groups that staged a noontime rally and march on Monday in a protest area elsewhere in the Ohio city as the RNC opened.
While many of the march participants were bused to Cleveland just for that event, the Connecticut students are part of a group staying at a house arranged through Airbnb and their trip was sponsored by United We Dream. The young people usually prepare their own breakfast or get food from stores owned by immigrants, Cruz said.
Monday night, the young immigrants stayed up until around midnight preparing banners and then rose at 5 a.m. for what they called a “banner drop,” the temporary display of these signs over an expressway packed with commuters.
Cruz said he had to get up earlier than the others, about 4 a.m., to complete sewing the banners together.
As for the commuters reaction Tuesday morning, Cruz said, “some people honked in support, some people flipped us off. There was a little of both.”
By midday Tuesday, and only half way through their four-day plan of action, the Connecticut students admitted they were exhausted and ready for a nap, but also enthusiastic about their efforts and ready to do more.
After a short respite Tuesday afternoon, the students planned to begin canvassing Cleveland neighborhoods to speak to undocumented immigrants about their rights, how to avoid deportation and how to deal with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the police.
“We want to do a lot of things to help the immigrant community and people of color,” said Cortes as she headed out with a group of a dozen young people from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Texas and New Jersey.
This outreach will continue Wednesday and on Thursday evening there will be “a community deportation defense forum.”
In addition, the group will also be working on new banners, said Cruz, who will enter his junior year at UConn and is studying to be a mathematics teacher.
The Cleveland gathering provided the immigrant youths an opportunity to compare progress in other parts of the country on addressing the concerns and needs of undocumented students. Some states, such as Texas, were providing institutional aid to immigrant youths attending state colleges, something that CT Students for a Dream continues to strive for in Connecticut, said Veira, who was the valedictorian of her graduating class from Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk.
One of the goals for Cleveland, Cruz said, was to intentionally gather people who are actually being affected by the immigration laws and to show that the movement is diverse and not just Latinos, as often portrayed by critics of immigration.
“It is amazing,” the Bridgeport resident said, “to be in a space with people from all different countries and different undocumented situations.”
The students said there has been no downtime for sightseeing or even to follow what is going on inside the convention hall.
“We sleep, work, plan, make posters,” said Cruz.
There has not been contact between the students and the Republican delegates and no problems with police, Veira said.
On Thursday night, Veira and Cortes will fly back to Connecticut where on Saturday evening Students for A Dream will stage its inaugural UndocuGrad Ball, a celebration and fundraiser at Artspace New Haven.
Cruz will head to Philadelphia for the Democratic convention next week.