Labor and immigrant advocates from across the state convened in New Haven yesterday, demanding that Congress produce new federal immigration legislation that addresses international trade policies, due process and immigrant rights.
Presenting a declaration titled “Immigrant Rights are Human Rights” in a press conference at the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, religious leaders, community groups and government officials took turns reading the statement to an audience of 70 community members. Just hours before, the Connecticut AFL-CIO Convention had finished up its two-day conference with a workshop on immigration, which featured a speech by Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
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The press conference marked an unusual collaboration between labor and immigrants’ rights groups, which are usually at odds on political issues.
“We will welcome immigrants into our neighborhoods and into our workplaces,” the statement reads. “We will join together in declaring that no human is illegal, and that no worker’s wages and conditions are secure as long as another worker’s vulnerability is exploited.”
The statement — which references the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech — was signed by pastors, aldermen, organization coordinators and Mayor John DeStefano, as well as Yale students and professors.
The document will be presented to Rep. Rosa DeLauro — who organizers said could not attend due to work conflicts — as well as Sens. Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd. Although the three have not yet issued responses to the declaration, they have been supportive in the past, said Fatima Rojas, a community organizer for the Connecticut Center for a New Economy.
Following a blitz of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in New Haven, which resulted in the arrests of 32 undocumented immigrants earlier this summer, the three lawmakers sent a complaint to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. They noted that the raids took place two days after New Haven passed the nation’s first-ever municipal ID program.
Chertoff replied in a letter later that month that federal agents had not violated the law when entering and searching homes.
The ID cards, which are open to all New Haven residents regardless of citizenship status, grant residents access to basic public services. New Haven Community Services Administrator Kica Matos said 3,420 cards have been issued since they became available in July, far surpassing expectations.
“City Hall fully embraces this statement — it’s an eloquent testimony that speaks to the community sentiment,” Matos said of the declaration Thursday. “It recognizes the right of every person in the community to live free from fear, from want and exploitation.”
The conference focused on federal legislation because local discussions will ultimately be handicapped should the federal government table the issue of immigration reform, said Gwen Mills, the Connecticut political field director for UNITE HERE!, a North American union that includes most of Yale’s staff.
“You need to organize deeply in the community so people can talk out all the issues,” she said. “But if the federal government doesn’t fix the problem, there will continually be tension locally.”
The combined labor and immigrant rights statement also comes in the wake of an independent arbitration which recently found Yale-New Haven Hospital guilty of misconduct during a union election last year. Representatives for SEIU 1199, the union that has been trying to organize hospital service employees since 1998, were among the statement’s signatories.
Stephen Pitti, a history and American studies professor who also signed the statement, said it could be viewed as part of a “broader New Haven campaign to emphasize the rights and dignity of citizens in the city.”
“I think this is a good starting point for any consideration of immigration reform,” he said. “It considers the positive impact of immigration on local communities, it defines their rights … and it reflects some of the basic causes of immigration.”
Yale University does not appear on the list of signatories, although CCNE Communications Director Evan Cobb could not say whether the University had been approached for sponsorship.