Thirty-six people, some of them members of the Yale community, were arrested in Hartford last September at a demonstration against the planned deportation of Franklin and Gioconda Ramos — undocumented immigrants who faced imminent removal from the country. This month, those arrested received the option to perform 24 hours of community service in lieu of resentencing or incarceration.
Among those given community service assignments were Yale history professor Jennifer Klein and reverends Robert Beloin and Karl Davis — or, as the two are better known at the St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale, Fr. Bob and Fr. Karl. Criminal charges will be expunged from the permanent record of anyone who complies with the community service order. Students arrested at the demonstration with an otherwise clean criminal record will legally be permitted to tell employers that they have never been arrested.
For Klein, Beloin and Davis, as well as for the 33 other individuals who protested on the Ramoses’ behalf — knowing full well that they would be arrested — community service is a small price to pay, particularly given the success of their efforts. After the demonstration, the Ramoses were granted a 30-day stay of deportation, and on Oct. 19 their case was reopened, allowing the couple to pursue legal residency in the United States without having to worry about an order of removal from the country. Jason Ramos, the eldest son of the Ramos family, told The Record-Journal that the decision “vindicates the work of hundreds and hundreds of people who have put their time, energy, effort, everything to support my parents and I.”
“It worked, so absolutely this is a success, and hopefully this encourages and inspires people to take action, to know that there is actually something we can do,” said Catherine Rodríguez DRA ’18. “In fact, I’ve heard through the grapevine that there are folks in other places in the United States who have heard about the action and have been very moved by it and are organizing.”
The arrest of clergy at the demonstration also attracted significant attention to the event. In a Facebook post on Sept. 29, James Martin, a famous Jesuit priest and popular figure within the Catholic church, attached a link to a previous story in the News about the demonstration and declared that “I stand with my friend Fr. Bob Beloin, Catholic Chaplain of Yale University, who stands with the poor and marginalized.”
The post was shared more than a thousand times and attracted over 7,800 likes and reactions.
Rodríguez is a community member of Unidad Latina en Acción, a grassroots organization dedicated to defending the human rights of immigrants and workers that played a leading role in the demonstration. John Lugo, a member of ULA, told the News in a previous interview that the demonstration in September was the largest the group had ever assembled.
“We were fighting the defensive fight to keep Franklin and Giaconda home but are also at the same time digging into the long-term desire to transform the fundamentally white supremacist and exploitative immigration system,” said Pablo Uribe ’18, who works with ULA, in an email to the News. “And in order to have that long-term goal in mind, too, you need to (at a minimum) build enduring trust-based relationships with the people you are organizing with, with the understanding that an injury to one is an injury to all. That’s solidarity.”
Demonstrations like the one organized in support of the Ramos family bring activists closer to achieving that goal, Uribe added.
Klein said she participated in the demonstration because, as someone who interacts with immigrants every day and whose family came to America as refugees of the Holocaust, she believes it is “absolutely critical” to defend the rights of people to be in the U.S. At the demonstration, Klein spoke about her Jewish faith and the significance of the time period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, during which members of the Jewish community emphasize and practice social justice.
The Yale clergy arrested at the demonstration felt similarly inspired by their religion.
“From a religious point of view, I felt like I was living Jesus’ Gospel in real time in a significant way,” Davis said. “I felt most priestly, most human and most American in shining light on the needs of our undocumented brothers and sisters.”
Beloin told the News that civil protest involves a willingness to face punishment for breaking the law and that he does not think 24 hours of community service is unreasonable. The courts are trying to preserve the common good, he added.
“[Being assigned to do community service] was our general expectation,” explained Dennis Wang ’19, who was arrested at the demonstration. “What was not always going to be clear to us before we were arrested is that we would necessarily get community service, that we would necessarily be released from jail the same day or that we would necessarily have the charges wiped from our records, but ultimately it was all of those things.”
Wang added that the community court in Hartford recognized that demonstrators had not “really done something bad that requires you to be punished,” and that he did not “really see the community service as punishment either.”
Klein, who has already completed her community service assignment, expressed a less favorable view of the requirement than Beloin and Wang, who are both slated to complete their service in mid-November.
“One of those days we were out there … we were just picking up trash on the side of the road, which I think is more punitive than anything else,” Klein said. “It’s hard for me to see that as community service when I could have picked an agency in New Haven where you could actually do some socially meaningful work.”
Uribe told the News that the community service assignment is a “pretty boring, hollow slap on the wrist” and misunderstands the demonstrators’ greater point — that they do not want to serve the community but rather “are the community,” and that they want to protect, care and build upon it as such.
The Ramoses entered the United States in 1993.
Britton O’Daly | firstname.lastname@example.org