Ngan Vu

While the U.S. Congress has yet to act on a measure to bring permanent protection to Dreamers — a group of young immigrants who are protected from deportation — local immigrant rights groups are still rallying for legislation.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in September announced an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — an Obama-era executive action that allowed certain undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country. And despite weeks of negotiations and a government shutdown, Congress has yet to make the program law. In interviews with the News this week, New Haven activists expressed concern about the uncertainty over DACA given that recent attempts to save it have failed.

“The one issue that we felt was off the table was DACA,” said Kica Matos, the director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change and a New Haven resident. “People are disappointed and appalled at the lack of willingness on the part of legislators on both sides of the aisle to … advance legislation.”

After the rollback of DACA was announced, undocumented immigrants whose permits were set to expire on or before March 5 were allowed to submit renewals by Oct. 5, 2017. But as the March deadline approaches, Congress has yet to stamp the program into law. Earlier this month, the majority of Democrats voted down a bill that would have funded the federal government without the inclusion of funding for DACA, leading to a weekend-long government shutdown.

President Donald Trump’s promises to build a border security wall and end family-based “chain migration” has troubled activists and supporters of the Dreamers. Matos said she has seen an increase in the number of activists involved in protests, rallies and fundraising because of the inaction on DACA.

“There has been an increase in the number of people who have come to support, people who are not engaged in advocacy on a regular basis but are so fed up with this administration,” Matos said. “We’re not going anywhere. I think the longer this fight lasts for, the more consequences there will be for this administration.”

John Lugo, an organizer at Unidad Latina en Acción — a grassroots immigrant-rights group in New Haven — said his organization’s main focus is on educating members about current events. He said that over the past few months, the fight to protect Dreamers has encouraged a lot of community members to get involved in Unidad Latina en Acción’s activism.

But Lugo said that while Unidad Latina en Acción is fighting to obtain protection for Dreamers, the issue should not be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over stricter immigration laws that would hurt the majority of immigrants.

“The conversations in Washington should not be at the detriment of the rest of the [immigrant] community,” Lugo said.

Although New Haven’s Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services does not work closely with Dreamers, their fundraising efforts and community organizing are at a peak point of the year.

A vigil and benefit concert took place on Cross Campus on Sunday evening to support immigrants a year after Trump issued an executive order that barred people from seven countries from entering the country. In addition, 2,100 people have already signed up for Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services’ Run for the Refugees event this Sunday, which will feature appearances from Gov. Dannel Malloy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn.

Ann O’Brien, the director of Community Engagement for Immigration Services’ Run for the Refugees, said that she supports a “clean” DREAM Act, which would not include enforcement add-ons such as increased border enforcement or funding for additional U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. She added that the fight to protect DACA recipients mirrors the fight the refugee community fought last year against Trump’s various travel bans.

“Our heart goes out to DACA children and youth, as well as those with [Temporary Protected Status] from different countries that have become jeopardized. We feel the fear and pain that those fellow Americans feel, whether they are U.S. citizens or not,” O’Brien said. “They are in their hearts and our hearts, American. We stand in solidarity with them.”

In a Jan. 20 statement, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, criticized Republicans in Congress for their refusal to pass a clean DREAM Act despite overwhelming public support for the measure from constituents on both sides of the political aisle.

“A permanent fix for the Dreamers [has] broad bipartisan support,” DeLauro said. “Nevertheless, President Trump and the Republican majority forced us into this crisis. … Our most vulnerable citizens will be hurt by this shameful shutdown.”

The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001.

Isabel Bysiewicz |