As community leaders across New Haven expressed concerns about deportations under a Trump Administration, Mayor Toni Harp has pledged her support to the undocumented immigrants of New Haven.
In a Monday interview on WNHH radio, Harp said the city would enforce its status as a “sanctuary city,” one of several hundred municipalities that has pledged not to prosecute illegal immigrants solely on grounds of their status. The announcement comes in the wake of demonstrations both at Yale and in the greater New Haven area calling on University leaders and city legislators to take a stand against policies that could affect immigrant residents.
“So many of the changes that [Trump] has talked about throughout the election are changes that would adversely impact cities, adversely impact people of color, so I’m very, very concerned,” Harp said in the interview.
She added that unlike some American cities, New Haven does not have its sanctuary status written in its city ordinance. As such, Harp said she has asked her corporation counsel to look into whether Trump could withdraw federal funding for sanctuary cities.
Harp reiterated that despite any potential challenges, city hall would continue to support the city’s immigrant families.
“We’re not going to back down, we’re going to fight, because it isn’t defined,” Harp said, referring to New Haven’s sanctuary city status.
Meg Green, spokeswoman for Gov. Dannel Malloy, issued similar comments on potential deportations in a Trump presidency.
“We are a nation of immigrants and, here in Connecticut, we celebrate the value immigrant families bring to our communities and the contributions they make to our economy,” Green said in a statement, according to the New Haven Register. “[Malloy] does not and will not support deporting our residents to areas where they aren’t going to be safe.”
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said in New Haven specifically, a precedent has been set for the New Haven Police department to focus its efforts on public safety, crime prevention and law enforcement, rather than working to enforce federal immigration policies.
He added that though it is still “too early to say what will happen,” Harp does not believe the NHPD would ever need to act as agents of the federal authorities.
NHPD spokesman David Hartman said the NHPD would not be involved in deportation raids if they were to occur in New Haven.
“We wouldn’t be asked to be involved. Deportation is not a policing issue,” he said. “The FBI is not a police department, ICE is not a police department.”
Yet many activists and organizers in New Haven expressed concerns about the city government’s ability to follow through on their pledges to protect the local immigrant community.
Unidad Latina en Acción leader John Lugo said his organization will work to ensure that the Harp administration “will stand by their statements even under pressure from the federal government.” ULA is meeting with Harp on Thursday evening to voice its concerns, Lugo said.
He added that he thought the NHPD should undergo training to improve its ties with the local immigrant community.
“This police department of this administration has been losing contact with the immigrant community, so I think it’s important for the mayor to start retraining the police department on race relations, especially on relations with the immigrant community,” Lugo said.
He added that such retraining must include educating officers about the city’s General Order 06-2, which states that NHPD officers cannot inquire about someone’s immigration status, detain them or contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about them, unless that person has been arrested on a criminal charge.
ULA organizer Joseph Foran said that ULA is currently focusing on finding sanctuaries for individuals who are at risk of being deported, a process that Trump might expedite.
“We’re gonna fight [Trump] every step of the way,” he said. “Whether or not his people do his things, his rhetoric has already caused huge damage, its emboldened racism and racist action against our community.”
He said that although ULA expected the same number of deportations under a Clinton administration, but that “now more than ever, we’re uniting. We refuse to be afraid.”
Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services, a local refugee resettlement organization, said because refugees are legal residents according to U.S. law, they could only be deported if they committed a serious crime. He added that the undocumented community is “much more vulnerable”to threats of deportation.
However, George recognized that Trump’s threats concerning deportation and the defunding of sanctuary cities were highly concerning and not in line with New Haven’s identity as an accepting city.
“We all benefit from living in a city that opens its arms to immigrants, including refugees,” George said. “Any damage to that, including financial, will affect all of us. We need to hold our arms together, stand up, explain to Washington, that this is our oldest tradition: welcoming people.”
Though he hopes Trump will soften his stance on immigration, George said it is crucial to “prepare for the worst” by rallying and educating the wider public on how immigrants and refugees contribute to the cities they live in.
Though he has not heard reports of harassment incidents since Trump’s election, George said some of IRIS’s Muslim clients have expressed concerns, especially given the anti-Muslim rhetoric of Trump’s campaign.
Chris Rice ’18, a student coordinator for La Casa Cultural said while he couldn’t speak on behalf of the entire La Casa community, he sensed group members were distressed following the election results as they realized many of their family and friends could be in legitimate danger.
Since then, members of La Casa have come together and started to think about how to take action, and emphasised the need for a “tangible” plan for organizing change in addition to protests.
“We need to be doing more on the ground organizing, we need to be communicating with other colleges in the area and see how we can move forward as a community,” Rice said.