As Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. rallied for comprehensive federal immigration reform at New Haven’s Columbus Family Academy Tuesday morning, immigrant rights groups demonstrated at the Elm Street office of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro on behalf of Josemaria Islas, a local undocumented worker facing deportation proceedings.
Islas was taken into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Secure Communities federal deportation program after his arrest last July on charges of armed robbery that were later dropped. Secure Communities, which local policymakers and advocacy groups denounce for deporting nonviolent offenders, asks local law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants who have been arrested until ICE officials can bring them to an immigration detention center.
Members of DeLauro’s staff met with the immigrant rights groups for the third time in the past four months after the protesters sang and chanted for three hours. Staff provided them with a written statement regarding the congresswoman’s support of comprehensive immigration reform that did not specifically mention Islas. But the protesters, who have requested for months that DeLauro write a letter supporting Islas’ removal from ICE custody, left dissatisfied. Kevin Dean, a member of advocacy group Seminarians for a Democratic Society, said DeLauro did not seem to want to “stick her neck out” based on the lack of response of her staffers.
“Why isn’t she taking action on this when New Haven is such a leader in terms of a city that has been innovative and welcoming to immigrants?” said Megan Fountain, an organizer for local immigrant rights group Unidad Latina en Accion. “The devil is in the details. If she is not going to stand up for a family in her district, what kind of immigration reform does she support?”
DeLauro’s spokesperson Sara Lonardo responded to advocacy groups by delineating the congresswoman’s reform agenda, which would include strengthening borders, keeping families together and ensuring employers are following hiring laws. DeLauro is scheduled to meet with members of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, or CIRA, in May, but Fountain urged the congresswoman to take more immediate action. Fountain cited Blumenthal’s promise to look into Islas’ case and Sen. Chris Murphy’s scheduled meeting with advocates Wednesday as examples of more active involvement among DeLauro’s colleagues. Fountain added that 33,000 undocumented workers will be deported before CIRA meets with DeLauro.
“The Congresswoman has always supported policies that provide a path to legalization for the millions of undocumented individuals in good standing,” Lonardo said in an email to the News, citing DeLauro’s casework and advocacy.
In the Tuesday morning press conference attended by about 30 members of immigrant rights groups, DeStefano similarly emphasized accelerated pathways to citizenship, an end to Secure Communities and the important role immigrants — both high- and low-skilled — play in New Haven and throughout the country.
After describing the experience of watching immigrants become citizens at a federal courthouse on Friday, Blumenthal pushed to crack down on employers using illegal labor practices, including hiring and exploiting undocumented workers. He also advocated streamlining the process for legal immigration and enhancing border security. Blumenthal told the News that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to bring a bill to the floor this spring, capitalizing on President Barack Obama’s push for immigration reform. He added that an agreement between labor unions and the Chamber of Commerce should be written into a comprehensive reform package.
“Our delegation will be committed to this cause,” he said of Connecticut legislators.
Kica Matos, who heads Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change and was also present at the press conference, said her group is planning a rally next Wednesday in the Capitol. Meanwhile, Unidad Latina en Accion continues to emphasize immigration reform as a universal human rights issue, rejecting any proposed legislation that would distinguish between “good” and “bad” immigrants or target specific groups such as youth or families. Steven Andrews of Seminarians for a Democratic Society said such immigrants should not “be consigned to the dustbin.”
“We have a generation opportunity in the Congress of the United States at this moment … a unique opportunity to provide leadership, as Connecticut always has, in civil rights,” DeStefano said at the press conference.
A March Pew Research Center poll found that 43 percent of Americans nationwide say immigrants in the U.S. without authorization should be allowed to become citizens and 24 percent say they should become legal permanent residents.
Matthew Lloyd-Thomas contributed reporting.
Correction: April 4
A previous version of this article stated that Josemaria Islas has been deported four times before. In fact, Islas was not deported four times but caught and released by border patrol several times in attempting to enter the United States.