Elizabeth Miles

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders expediting the construction of a 1,900-mile wall along the United States-Mexico border and increasing deportation enforcement to a force of 10,000 officers. The following day, New Haven activist groups and community leaders gathered to protest in response.

Speakers at the Thursday evening protest, which brought 250 people to the steps of City Hall, came from a variety of backgrounds, including the community activist group Unidad Latina en Acción and local religious groups like The Congregation Mishkan Israel. But the speakers, among them Mayor Toni Harp, emphasized that they were all there for the same reason: to ensure that New Haven would remain a sanctuary city.

“The priority and the first responsibility of the city of New Haven, its police department, its public schools, every other department and every member of my administration is to safeguard the well-being of all New Haven residents,” Harp said to a crowd upwards of 250 people. “I cannot overemphasize this: New Haven police officers, school district employees and other city workers do not and will not have to enforce federal immigration laws.”

Despite this outpouring of support, many in attendance were concerned that New Haven might lose much of the federal funding it receives. Trump’s executive orders, in addition to boosting border control, also target sanctuary cities like New Haven. Through Trump’s new policy, any cities that the Department of Homeland Security labels a “sanctuary jurisdiction” will not be eligible for a variety of federal grants.

New Haven has been a sanctuary city since 2007, and officials have vowed to protect residents living in the country illegally from arrest and deportation by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

“It is so unbelievable to me that assistance to a city like New Haven and other cities will be cut off,” U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, D–Conn., said. “It’s not going to make us any safer if they take away money from the cop’s program — $1.5 million. New Haven schools will lose $12 million in Title I funding for low-income students. $5.7 million dollars will be lost for special education. … How dare they talk about taking financial assistance away from our cities, [which] have provided a place for people to work, to raise children and to take care of families.”

DeLauro and James Bhandary-Alexander, an attorney at New Haven Legal Assistance, echoed Harp’s sentiment and emphasized that Trump’s executive orders were unconstitutional.

Bhandary-Alexander said that he, Yale Law School schools and members of the Law School’s human rights clinic have worked together to provide low-income immigrant families and refugees with the necessary assistance to obtain legal status, among other services. The group, he said, will continue helping these individuals, regardless of Trump’s new agenda.

The crowd seemed to be in full agreement.

Luiz Casanova, assistant chief of the New Haven Police Department, stressed at the rally that the 2006 general order prohibiting police officers to ask about immigration status would continue to be a fundamental part of the city’s policy. And Rabbi Herbert Brockman, of the Congregation Mishkan Israel, revealed in a speech that his congregation has just finalized their preparations for taking in their fourth refugee family this year.

Further, Brockman announced the debut of “sanctuary spaces”— an idea that stemmed from the term “safe spaces” popularized today. Regardless of Trump’s crackdown on deportation enforcement, Brockman endorsed spaces that would provide resources and mentorship to displaced persons, immigrants who came illegally and refugees.

“We believe that ultimately these presidential regulations are man-made. We have to answer to a higher authority,” Brockman said. “Using either your religious communities, or however you can be helpful to communities that are in jeopardy, you can help.”

The protest ended with a march circling Yale’s main campus and returning to the front of City Hall.

Correction, Jan. 27: A previous version of this article incorrectly described U.S. Representative Rosa Delauro as a state representative.