This legislative cycle, several nonprofit and activist organizations are launching a collective effort to protect the rights of immigrants across Connecticut by bolstering protections and amending existing legislation.

Among these groups, over 40 belong to the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, or CIRA, a grassroots coalition dedicated to defending communities and the civil liberties of immigrants. After its first major campaign — which successfully passed the Connecticut Trust Act — in 2013, CIRA is looking to strengthen the act and advocate for other legal reforms this year. Beyond its policy agenda, the alliance is looking to support the work of like-minded groups, including those at Yale.

“Our mission has always been to support the local work, to function as a resource for people to connect with each other so that they don’t feel that they are doing this work alone or that they have to reinvent the wheel,” said Ana María Rivera-Forastieri, co-director of the Connecticut Bail Fund, a member group of CIRA. “Advocating for these laws is not an easy process, but the fact that there are communities all across Connecticut banding together … is the value of the coalition.”

Modeled after a similar law in California, the current Trust Act aims to protect against collusion between state officials and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Recently, several court decisions have ruled unconstitutional the detention of people solely on the basis of an immigration detainer. In light of these legal precedents, the coalition is advocating for provisions against honoring immigration detainer requests, which would prohibit state law enforcement from holding people without a warrant. A similar effort was launched by CIRA a few years ago, and the bill reached the General Assembly’s judiciary committee.

Beyond expanding the Trust Act, CIRA is looking to reduce sentences for misdemeanors in Connecticut. Under current sentencing laws, those convicted of a misdemeanor could face up to one year in jail — just long enough to constitute “moral turpitude,” a legal cause for detainment and deportation. Rivera-Forastieri said lowering the maximum sentence by just one day would help to circumvent the “prison-to-deportation pipeline.” Connecticut would be the fifth state to consider such a bill.

Yale student groups have also been engaging with immigrant rights activism. Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán, or MEChA — a student group on campus and a member of CIRA — has been involved in the #AffordtoDream campaign, which seeks to make higher education more accessible for undocumented students. As part of their efforts, MEChA offers the annual Sueños scholarship, which helps an undocumented student finance college every year, and Conexiones, a mentorship program that pairs Yale students with New Haven high school students.

“We believe that through the promotion of higher education, community engagement and political participation, we can develop leaders that will work with the Latinx community to strive for an inclusive, just society,” said Fernando Torres ’19, co-moderator of MEChA. “We hope that through these actions, we can play a role in the promotion and safety of the Latinx and immigrant community because everyone has the right to fight for a prosperous future for themselves and their community.”

To advocate for these legislative proposals, CIRA and its constituent groups are coordinating rallies and galvanizing supporters to reach out to legislators. The alliance is also organizing community defense groups across the state, including in Hartford, Windham-Willimantic and New Haven. In the Elm City, CIRA is partnering with the Connecticut Bail Fund and Unidad Latina en Acción to codify the protections conferred by New Haven’s sanctuary city status.

This movement for collaborative action in the name of promoting immigrant rights is also reflected in the programming of many Yale organizations. On Thursday night, the Yale College Democrats, Yale Undergraduate Legal Aid Association and CT Students for a Dream organized a Bail Fund Benefit — a dance to fundraise for the Connecticut Bail Fund.

“We come from a place of immense privilege,” said Ananya Kumar-Banerjee ’21, communications director for the Yale College Democrats. “We have access to opportunities and wealth, and I think it is important for us to engage with the city and the state we are in and not let those opportunities and access to resources leave us in a place that we’re not connected to what is going on in this country.”

This year, the Yale College Democrats have advocated for undocumented students to have access to institutional aid, which significantly lowers the cost of in-state higher education. The Yale Undergraduate Legal Aid Association, or YULAA, is also committed to the legal empowerment of New Haven immigrants and refugees. According to Lorena Ortega-Guerrero ’20, events coordinator for the YULAA, student volunteers offer translations and help immigrants obtain U visas. They also host speaker events to engage the Yale community in conversations about immigrant rights issues.

“This is work that will ultimately impact your life, if not now, then later,” said Alok Bhatt, community defense coordinator of CIRA. “It’s a people issue, and it’s complex and very charged, particularly in this political climate, but it’s for the good of people. It’s not just about raising a particular part of the population, it’s for everyone.”

CIRA was originally founded in response to the deportation of a New Haven resident, who was apprehended by Hamden police.

Ruiyan Wang |