About a year after President Donald Trump announced an executive order to cut funding to sanctuary cities, the grass-roots immigration organization Unidad Latina en Accion has ramped up its efforts to defend the city’s sanctuary status.
This month, the organization has been on the streets of New Haven, collecting more than 500 signatures for a petition designed to strengthen the city’s commitment to protecting immigrants and working to draft a new ordinance to adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t arrest” policy for the city.
“The climate that we have living in New Haven and the whole country is a threat, and we want to make sure that these ordinances don’t just apply to city police but to all city employees,” said Fatima Rojas, a Unidad Latina en Accion organizer. “In that we have a safer environment.”
This month, the activist organization is collecting signatures from New Haven residents, demanding that the city update and strengthen its sanctuary policies. The petition calls for the city to extend a sanctuary policy that currently applies only to police to cover all city employees and officials; protect people’s confidential information, including their sexual orientation, immigration status and status as a victim of sexual violence; limit city communication with immigration authorities to only what is required by law; and refuse to use city resources to detain people based on requests by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The petition states that New Haven must emerge as a model sanctuary city, like it did in 2006 when it passed a sanctuary police order, saying that the New Haven police should not ask anyone about their immigration status. Unidad Latina en Accion has ramped up its advocacy in response to the election of Trump, whose order to defund sanctuary cities has stalled in the court system.
Megan Fountain ’07, who has volunteered as a community organizer with Unidad Latina en Accion since 2007, said the policy is out of date and does not reflect the current reality of how ICE agents handle immigration and deportation cases. In addition, because the police order is not a law, it could be reversed by a new mayor or police chief, according to organizer Geoffrey Valdes.
Valdes said Unidad Latina en Accion will soon present the petition to the Board of Alders. Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the activist organization’s efforts in the past have been consistent with Mayor Toni Harp’s desire for New Haven to remain a welcoming, accepting community.
Grotheer noted that there is no city ordinance or resolution “memorializing” New Haven as a sanctuary city but that the term sanctuary city was given to New Haven by the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security.
“[New Haven] is a welcoming community to all those who choose to live here,” Grotheer said. “The mayor is steadfast in supporting this notion, but sanctuary is another matter, that is nomenclature invented by the federal government.”
Valdez praised the mayor’s recent decision to boycott a White House Meeting the same day the U.S. Justice Department sent letters to nearly two dozen cities requesting greater compliance with federal immigration laws.
But she said the organization still wants the city’s sanctuary status to be stamped into law, as the status of immigrants in the city could change under a new mayor.
In the past year, Unidad Latina en Accion has worked with immigrants facing imminent deportation. Since last October, Nelson Pinos Gonzalez, an undocumented immigrant, has sought sanctuary at the First and Summerfield United Church in New Haven, where Unidad Latina en Accion hosts weekly meetings. And Marco Reyes, an undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant, sought sanctuary in the church for months last year until he received word he could return home the day before Thanksgiving.
ULA was formed in 2002.
Isabel Bysiewicz | firstname.lastname@example.org