Two hundred immigrants and allies from across the state gathered on Thursday night near the New Haven Green to demand that the U.S. Congress pass a “clean” Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, — one without add-ons that would threaten other undocumented immigrants — before the end of the year.
Two months have passed since the Trump administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Unless Congress passes a new DREAM Act in the next four months, DACA recipients will lose certain benefits, such as a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility to obtain a work permit. Undocumented youth and family members of individuals taking sanctuary within the state spoke at the rally about how the federal immigration policy has affected their lives. After several speeches and collective chants, the rally ended with a march to City Hall.
“Every day that goes without the DREAM Act being passed, it’s more undocumented youth working for the risk of deportation,” said Carolina Bortoletto, co-founder of Connecticut Students for a Dream.
Bortoletto said the rally was organized to show the urgent need for a “clean” DREAM Act to be passed this year. Connecticut Students for a Dream defines a “clean” DREAM Act as one that provides a path to citizenship and permanent protection for immigrant youth without any “dangerous” enforcement add-ons, such as more funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement or detention for undocumented immigrants. Bortoletto said Thursday was a national day of action and that undocumented youth organized thousands of connected marches across the country.
Nov. 9 also marked three months and one day since Marco Reyes, an undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant who has lived in Connecticut for 20 years, sought sanctuary at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, in front of which the rally was held.
“The times are incredibly tough and uncertain for my family and I, but we continue to keep our values strong, we continue to hold one another up when we feel that we are falling,” said Anthony Reyes, son of Reyes.
Anthony Reyes spoke of the difficulties his family has faced over the last three months and said his family will continue to fight and organize for immigrant rights. He said he is grateful for those who have supported his father — including community members who have visited and even slept over at the First and Summerfield United Methodist church — but said the church will never be his father’s home.
“Yes, this is a place filled with music, with events, faith, hope and love … we received the best hospitality at this sanctuary,” Reyes said. “But my real home is still missing an important member.”
Thursday also marked one month since Sujitno Sajuti sought sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden.
Bortoletto said students from all over the state attended the event, including students of Wilbur Cross High School and Eastern Connecticut State University. Connecticut Students for a Dream, a group whose mission is to “educate, advocate and empower,” has a college access program that helps immigrant teenagers and parents learn about opportunities in higher education.
The organization advocates for policies at the state and national levels, institutional financial aid for undocumented students and protection of sanctuary cities. In addition, Bortoletto said the organization seeks to empower undocumented youth to “find their voice” and get involved in their communities.
State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, told the crowd it is important for community members to show support for immigration issues.
“It makes a lot of sense to me that we as a community act as a community on these issues,” Winfield said. “I just want to be out here to be an ally that shows their face.”
Winfield said that a “clean” DREAM Act will make everyone “safer.” If undocumented individuals are scared of deportation, he added, they will be less likely to alert police in the event of community incidents.
Although supporters are urging legislators in Washington, D.C., to take action, a lot can be done to help immigrants at the state level, Winfield added.
“Connecticut is a progressive state, but I don’t think any state can get away with saying it’s just an issue of the federal government,” he said.
In 2013, Winfield introduced the first ever “Trust Act,” which regulates the relationship between the undocumented and the police in the state by stipulating when police can “turn over” residents to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In addition, the Connecticut General Assembly has worked to pass initiatives supported by Connecticut Students for a Dream, he said. Last year, lawmakers in both houses of the Assembly introduced a bill that allows undocumented students to participate in Connecticut student aid programs for public higher education.
Although some Yale students attended the event, Emily Almendarez ’20 said more Yalies need to come to similar rallies.
“Speak up and amplify the voices of all 11 million undocumented immigrants,” she said. “We, the youth, are the pioneers of a brighter, more inclusive, intersectional future.”
Connecticut Students for a Dream was founded in 2010.
Isabel Bysiewicz | firstname.lastname@example.org