Chris Murphy didn’t say yes. And he didn’t say no.
Instead Murphy (at center in photo) changed the subject when, at the tail end of a campaign stop full of softball, crowd-pleasing banter in Fair Haven, he faced a tough question for a candidate for statewide office: Should undocumented immigrants be allowed to get driver’s licenses?
The exchange came at during a Friday afternoon campaign swing through Fair Haven Friday afternoon. Murphy was in town to try to sew up New Haven’s Latino vote in his quest to become the state’s next U.S. senator. Murphy, a Democrat, faces Republican Linda McMahon Nov. 6 in an election to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.
Friday’s event was organized with the Spanish American Merchants Association (SAMA). It ended up at the group’s second-floor Grand Avenue office after a walk through the neighborhood. The tour stopped at C-Town grocery store and START Bank and included the obligatory visit to a local Grand Avenue barber shop.
During a question and answer period, Mexican immigrant Emma Gonzalez (at center in photo) spoke up. She owns a food truck, Tacos La Fuente. She said she has trouble with her business because one of her employees—an immigrant—can’t get a license. Through an interpreter, Gonzalez asked :“What can [Murphy] do for immigrants who have been here a long time?” Can he make it so they can get licenses?
The same question came up less than a week earlier, two blocks away at a forum at St. Rose of Lima Church, where Police Chief Dean Esserman promised to help the congregation lobby the state to allow more immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.
Murphy, unlike Esserman, did not answer the question directly. He responded that the federal government’s failure to reform immigration laws has forced states and municipalities to issue their own ID cards. “The federal government needs to solve this problem,” he said.
Murphy said he’s focused on setting up a “pathway to citizenship.”
“Let’s force the federal government to step up to the plate,” he said. It’s “neither practical nor compassionate” to deport the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country, Murphy said.
Asked again later about undocumented immigrants and driver’s licenses, Murphy replied, “That’s really a state issue. My focus is just on a federal approach to immigration reform.”
Asked if he thinks undocumented immigrants should be able to have driver’s licenses to allow them to drive, Murphy said that undocumented immigrants drive already, which is “just more reason” why federal immigration reform is necessary.
Gonzalez said she was pleased with Murphy’s response to her question. “He’s going to help.”
McMahon’s campaign did not return a call for comment.
A START Start
Murphy’s Fair Haven campaign stop Friday began with a visit to START community bank, right below SAMA’s offices. Murphy praised the bank’s financial literacy programs and said the federal government could help support that, to get more people in urban areas to open bank accounts.
Across the street, Murphy took a look at a hole in the ground where NeighborWorks New Horizons plans to build a new mixed-use building with affordable housing by next March.
He toured the nearby offices of Neighborworks.
He praised the housing organization’s work and related how his mother had lived in affordable housing in New Britain.
He greeted 8 year-old Anarea Moore, who asked him, “Are you beating Linda McMahon?”
“I hope so!” Murphy replied. “Go out and tell all your friends’ parents to vote for me.”
Murphy was joined by New Haven U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (at left in photo) and New Haven state Rep. Juan Candelaria (at left in top photo), along with Fair Haven Alderman Ernie Santiago.
Murphy and DeLauro shook hands with shoppers in C-Town grocery…
... and posed for photos outside.
Murphy chatted with first-time voter Josue Rivera. “He seems like a real nice guy. I’d like to know more about him,” Rivera said, after Murphy walked away. “It’s nice seeing him around.”
People stopped and took cell phone pictures as Murphy and his entourage passed by. Children called out to him by name from school buses. “You can’t avoid my face on TV,” Murphy said. “It’s on 20 times a night between my commercials and [McMahon’s].”