In light of recent physical attacks on New Haven’s immigrant population, members of social activist group Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA) rallied in front of the New Haven Police Station yesterday evening.
ULA leaders joined roughly 20 immigrant families on the steps of the New Haven Police Department, where several immigrants shared their experiences of being brutally attacked on the streets of New Haven over the past few years. Rally leaders said that New Haven’s immigrant community lacks support from City Hall and the police department, which the protesters claim are often late or fails to respond to attacks on immigrants. Lieutenant Doug Harkins was not aware that the rally was happening, said Charlette Barham, a sergeant in the New Haven Police Department.
“The assaults keep happening and the killing keeps happening,” said John Lugo, organizer for ULA. “We feel like we need trust and we want more communication.”
There have been reports of approximately 20 different attacks in the past two months, Lugo said.
ULA members pointed to the lack of funding for the Elm City ID Card as both a cause for the attacks and an example of waning support from City Hall. The ID Cards — a form of identification that helps immigrants interact with the police and open bank accounts — were created in 2007, but the city did not renew funding after the first two years, Lugo said. When the cards were first introduced, assaults against New Haven’s immigrant population decreased, he added.
Leaders also called for the police department to raise more awareness about Police General Order 6-02 — an order that prevents police officers from questioning the immigrant status of people seeking help from the police. Although it was designed to make immigrants more comfortable talking to the police, not enough people know about the order, said Luis Luna, ULA volunteer.
“We need to make sure that folks know they can speak to the police,” Luna said. “It’s important for folks to know that they are safe if they report to the police.”
ULA leaders have been working with the police review board to address the organization’s concerns, Luna said. Members also plan to speak with Mayor Toni Harp and the New Haven Chief of Police, Lugo said.
ULA leaders have already spoken with Mayor Harp in a meeting with 50 to 60 immigrants to address their concerns with New Haven’s emergency response, said Megan Fountain, an organizer for ULA. Fountain said Harp expressed interest in increasing the number of bilingual 911 operators available.
The ULA’s call for change within City Hall and the New Haven Police Department were spurred by victims’ accounts of attacks.
“This has been going on for many years,” Lugo said. “There is impunity on many of these cases.”
After Veronica Ajimenes and her children were attacked by a dog and its owner refused to respond, the police took seven hours to arrive after Ajimenes had placed her complaint, she said.
In another attack that left ULA members Alberto Corona and his nephew Hugo Diaz, in the hospital last July, Corona was the only person listed as a victim in the police report, he said.
“Robbers think that we immigrants are easy targets because they think we carry cash,” Corona said. “They think we’re easy prey.”
The Unidad Latina en Accion has been operating in the Greater New Haven Area since 2002.