One could almost feel the reverberations of Monday’s immigrant rights rally echoing off the buildings surrounding the New Haven Green.
Joining a nationwide movement that mobilized hundreds of thousands of protesters in major U.S. cities Monday, the Connecticut Coalition for the Rights of Immigrants organized a protest in support of citizenship for immigrant workers. Coalition organizer and Unidad Latina en Accion member John Lugo said the rally was spurred by the current debate in Congress over the ratification of the Sensenbrenner Bill, H.R. 4437, which calls for more stringent regulations on immigration to the United States.
While the present debate over H.R. 4437 sparked the reactionary seed for the groups involved in the organization of the protest, the general issue of immigrant rights is much larger, said Rebecca Lewis, the organizer of a statewide human rights coalition that formed two weeks ago to support the rally.
“We’re aiming at amnesty for all, so we always have to fight,” she said. “The goal is to mobilize the nation and make people aware of the hard issues that immigrant workers are facing.”
The proposed bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, calls for a number of congressional policy reforms that would allow for the building of a 700-mile-long wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and the transfer of custody of illegal immigrants from local authorities to the federal government. The bill also mandates a $3,000 voluntary deportation fee, 10-year minimum sentencing for fraudulent documentation, and the electronic verification of employment status of immigrant workers.
Lewis, who said she supports a no-border policy, said many of those participating in the rally vehemently oppose the consideration of what she called “ridiculous” legislation.
Yale students, meanwhile, expressed diverse opinions about H.R. 4437.
Party of the Right chairman Andrew Olson ’08 said that although he believes in equal rights for legal immigrants, he supports the government’s decision to bar illegal immigrants from benefiting from the legal system.
“If we make the system of legal immigration very easy and not worry about it, then we can really crack down on those that do not [immigrate] the right way,” he said.
But Olson also said helping countries develop economically within their own borders is a more effective regulation strategy.
“By working with [Latin American countries] to stimulate their own economies, we can make [them] places where people want to stay,” he said.
Amit Bhalla ’09 said he categorically opposes restrictive legislation.
“Every human deserves certain fundamental rights and freedoms, regardless of where they were born,” he said.
The rally, supported by such groups as the Unidad Latina en Accion, focused on bringing together immigrants of all nationalities, Lewis said. But many signs on the center stage were written in Spanish, displaying messages such as, “Immigrant, raise your voice. You have rights. Don’t let anybody deceive you.”
“[The rally was] not intentionally slanted,” Lewis said. “It just so happens that the largest immigrant population in Connecticut is Latino.”
To further publicize the issue, Lugo said, the coalition is organizing a National Strike of Immigrants on May 1. In protest, immigrants around the nation are encouraged neither to purchase anything, nor to go to work or school on that day.
“They are tired of being quiet, and realize that it’s time to do something,” he said. “We know that [immigrants] have economical power, and we want to show it.”