After the excitement of the elections subsided, New Haven residents called on Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 to urge federal government leaders to pass immigration reform at a City Hall protest last Thursday.
Local immigration activists, union leaders and students attended the event, hosted by Mayor Toni Harp. Blumenthal spoke and then opened the podium to DREAMers — students who have benefited from the federal and state laws associated with the DREAM act. The act, short for “Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors,” offers conditional permanent residency to undocumented minors who graduate from U.S. high schools.
The DREAMers shared stories of family members who were detained or deported and petitioned President Barack Obama to use his executive power to expand the protection of the DREAM Act to include more undocumented immigrants.
“New Haven has been a leader in the country and the state in terms of being welcoming to the immigrant community,” said Nick Torres, director of advocacy at JUNTA for Progressive Action — a Fair Haven based social justice organization that works to empower the Latino community and offers legal aid to community members. “We’re happy to work with someone like Senator Blumenthal to push the president to act in the next several weeks.”
Blumenthal said at the event that he and the protesters would “ask the president to take big, bold, broad steps” to address a “broken” immigration system. Blumenthal added that, though the president does not have the power to change the law, he can use his authority to establish a “fairer and more effective” system.
Torres said, while the city depends on Blumenthal to lead the way to reform in Congress, JUNTA and New Haven residents will continue to demonstrate against deportations in the Elm City. However, dates have not yet been set for future rallies.
While the City Hall protest saw a “great turnout,” according to City Hall spokesperson Laurence Grotheer, the goals of the DREAMers are still unclear.
Torres said that the protesters agreed that the president should use his executive power to Act against deportation, but many have contrasting views on the extent of reform needed. The most radical of the DREAMers demand that the two million who have been deported in the past two years should be allowed back into the U.S.
When asked whether such a large scale reversal of deportations could be possible, Yale Law School professor Cristina Rodriguez ’95 LAW ’00 said, “The short answer is no.” She added that it is uncertain whether or not the deportations can be overturned through the president’s executive order.
Harp supports a milder approach to reform. She calls for “more scrutiny” regarding decision of deportation and fewer deportations in favor of keeping families together, Grotheer said.
Torres said he has found it difficult to accurately discern the number of undocumented immigrant families living in New Haven and surrounding towns. However, he estimates that over 10 million will benefit from an expansion of the DREAM Act to protect not just students, but also their parents and relatives.
“We hope to urge the president to take this opportunity to help as many immigrants as possible, instead of just a select few,” Torres said.
The DREAM Act was first introduced in the Senate in 2001.