Sara Tabin

New Haven’s alumni chapter of the sorority Delta Sigma Theta hosted an immigration panel on Tuesday evening at City Hall as part of their annual “Delta Day.”

Delta Sigma Theta is an international, historically black service sorority. Karimah Mickens Webber, president of New Haven’s chapter, said the group has been hosting “Conversations That Matter” on the second Tuesday of every month since the election of President Donald Trump last November. The group has discussed topics such as women’s rights, racial equality and other social justice issues. This month’s conversation was combined with their annual City Hall event, Webber said.

“[We] hope that tonight will drive awareness about the state of immigration [and provide] tools and strategies to become better neighbors,” she said.

Kai Perry, social action chair for New Haven’s chapter and a research assistant at the Yale School of Medicine, explained that membership in the sorority is a lifetime commitment and that members are involved with community advocacy in the form of politics, education and volunteer work, among others.

Mayor Toni Harp — herself a member of the sorority, although she is no longer active — gave a welcome speech to the crowd of more than 50 people. Afterward, a panel moderated by Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change, discussed New Haven immigration advocacy work.

On the night of the election, Matos said she began receiving texts and calls from people in the immigrant community who feared for themselves and their families, and pointed out that within a week of his inauguration, Trump had released two anti-immigrant executive orders. Matos also spoke about Trump’s threats against sanctuary cities and said it is “only a matter of time” before Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers come to New Haven.

New Haven Public Schools Chief Operating Officer William Clark was one of the panelists and spoke about concerns NHPS has faced since the election. As New Haven has large immigrant and refugee populations, he said, many students and parents have been extremely afraid of their safety under the new administration.

“When you’re thinking about your immigration status, it is hard to learn math,” he said.

Clark explained that there are laws in place to make schools a safe space. For instance, he noted, schools do not ask students for their place of origin, only their place of residence.

Panelist and Editor-in-Chief of local online newspaper La Voz Hispana Norma Reyes spoke about the history of immigration in the United States and noted that other immigrant groups, including Italian and Irish people, also faced discrimination when they first arrived in the United States. Reyes said that now, many people will be affected by the new administration’s policies.

“They said they would only take the criminals, but they’re not taking the criminals,” she said. “They’re taking everyone.”

Unidad Latina en Acción co-founder John Lugo, another panelist, spoke about grass-roots actions that New Haven residents can get involved with. He cited, for example, supporting the “defense network” ULA is making. The group has created a 24-hour hotline to warn residents if ICE comes to New Haven, Lugo said, and is also working with churches and families in New Haven that could provide sanctuary to immigrants if necessary.

Delta Sigma Theta was founded in 1913.