In a crowded room at the New Haven People’s Center, Mayor Toni Harp sat down with about 50 members of Unidad Latina en Acción at their regular Monday night meeting to discuss growing concerns over immigrant rights and safety in New Haven.
Harp, who took a front row seat in the crowd, fielded questions and concerns from organizers and community members. ULA leaders outlined a three-point agenda for the meeting, which included community safety, identification cards and wage theft.
ULA member Luis Luna, who translated for Harp, said the organization invited Mayor Harp primarily out of concern for the safety of New Haven’s Latino community.
“We had folks who were being assaulted,” Luna said. “And the police had a pretty slow response to our concerns.”
Several community members narrated their cases of assault in Spanish, which Luna translated for Mayor Harp.
Community members addressed adherence to and awareness of General Order 06-2 — which ensures undocumented residents the right to safely report crimes without the risk of being asked for their immigration documents — as one of their chief safety concerns.
ULA organizers expressed concern that the order was not well-publicized, and urged Harp to build a press campaign.
“People don’t know that you can go to the [police] station safely,” one ULA organizer said. “There is a perception that if you assault an immigrant, he will not tell.”
Referencing an ad campaign for General Order 06-2 that ran in 2006, another community member added that it was one of the reasons many were proud to live in New Haven.
Harp assured meeting attendees that the order was still in effect, and said she was open to increased publicity. Harp added that new police officers might benefit from special training on the issue.
On a similar note, community leaders asked for Harp to renew advertisements for the Elm City ID Card, which serves as a reliable and recognized form of identification for undocumented residents — crucial for opening bank accounts, among other things. Aside from concerns about publicity, one New Haven teacher raised the issue of ID recognition, saying that her student had been denied a bank account because the banks did not accept Elm City ID Cards.
“We will do what we can,” Harp said, promising to send out materials to New Haven banks informing them of the validity of the card.
ULA organizers also addressed the issue of wage theft. Harp, whose 2013 mayoral campaign highlighted her progressive stance on immigration issues, garnered some criticism last year for her slow response to the Gourmet Heaven wage theft case.
Harp took a more vocal role Monday night, suggesting that meetings between ULA leaders and her staff occur “on a regular basis.”
This past July, the Latino community praised Harp when she spoke out in favor of providing short-term shelter in New Haven to a portion of the thousands of undocumented children being held at the Texas-Mexico border. Despite Harp’s enthusiasm, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy spoke out against this same initiative.
Translator Luis Luna said he was happy the mayor had come to the ULA’s Monday meeting.
“Here is where we plan our strategies, here is where we raise our questions, where we raise our concerns,” Luna said, “So I think it was good that she came. It feels like she has a commitment to the community, and we want to thank her for that.”
After Mayor Harp’s departure, ULA organizers began calling roll for their usual weekly community discussion.
ULA members have planned an upcoming meeting with New Haven’s Assistant Chief of Police Luiz Casanova to discuss safety issues for Elm City immigrants.