The last-minute cancellation of President Barack Obama’s Wednesday speech in Bridgeport, Connecticut did not prevent activists from holding a politically charged rally for immigration reform down the street from where the president was supposed to speak.
The president was scheduled to speak at a rally for Governor Dannel Malloy, who is in the midst of one of the nation’s tightest gubernatorial races. But the visit was postponed due to an unplanned meeting with cabinet agencies to coordinate the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak. Unidad Latina en Acción, a grassroots organization based in New Haven, had planned to use the publicity surrounding the speech as a platform to protest an immigration detainment request for one of its members, Esvin Lima. Obama’s late withdrawal did not alter their plans.
“The members of the ULA are frustrated with the broken promises of the Democrats,” said Megan Fountain ’07, one of the organizers of the ULA. “They really felt they couldn’t remain silent anymore with Obama coming to Connecticut to campaign and Governor Malloy making campaign promises.”
Roughly 30 activists stood outside of the Bridgeport Correctional Center — where Lima is held — Wednesday evening, holding up signs condemning Obama’s immigration policies, said ULA leader John Lugo. One sign read “No More Deportations,” and another pictured Obama with the caption “2 million 2 many,” a reference to the number of people who have been deported during Obama’s presidency.
ULA is also unhappy with Obama’s inaction on Immigrations and Customs Enforcement policies. The executive branch has legal authority to set ICE policies.
According to Fountain, Lima’s incarceration exemplifies what she characterized as Obama and Malloy’s broken promises. An immigrant from Guatemala who settled in Norwalk, Connecticut, Lima has been incarcerated for seven months because his landlord told the police he stole tools after Lima reported housing code violations to the Norwalk Health Department, according to Fountain.
Further, the Connecticut Department of Corrections is honoring an immigration detainer request on Lima because Lima was deported in 2012 when he first traveled to the United States.
The DOC is honoring the IDR despite having no obligation to do so — IDRs are optional, and local jails do not have to hold people for ICE, Fountain said.
ULA and members of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance met with Malloy on Aug. 4 to discuss Lima’s detainment and the TRUST Act, which allows the state to submit detainment requests to ICE only if there is a serious felony conviction. Because Lima was only convicted of a misdemeanor, the TRUST Act would suggest that the state couldn’t submit a detainment request.
Danielle Briand, Lima’s attorney, said Lima’s situation shows that the TRUST Act is not tightly enforced.
“He’s completely innocent of anything he’s been charged with,” Briand said. “I think the activism that is taking place in order to call attention to this particular case is completely necessary in order to avoid this kind of injustice going forward for other people.”
Briand said she was sure Lima would be exonerated of all charges at the end of the criminal process, but she was frustrated with his inability to fight his criminal case as a free man.
Obama’s absence did nothing to minimize Briand’s faith in the impact of the protest.
“It will be possible to have a more localized impact,” she said. “The original idea behind the protest was to be able to garner the attention of some of the state politicians, and obviously the president, about issues of national import. And this is an issue of national import.”
Fountain agreed that the scope of the issue stretches beyond Lima. Referring to it as a “crisis situation,” she said that Latino families are faced with a flawed deportation system that has not changed despite Obama’s efforts to reform the country’s immigration system.
“People want action and not rhetoric,” Fountain said.
Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, said in an email that Obama may still visit Connecticut before the polls open in November.
The Bridgeport Correctional Center is less than half a mile from where Obama was scheduled to speak.