After a day of false alarms, over 100 people packed a downtown gathering spot to sign up to serve as legal observers, accompany defendants to court, get arrested at protests, and put a rapid-response hotline on speed dial in preparation of anticipated federal raids on undocumented immigrants.
That event took place Wednesday evening at the New Haven People’s Center on Howe Street.
Starting at 7 p.m., over 100 New Haveners and people from surrounding communities — with dozens left waiting outside — packed the venue’s main room for “Resisting Deportation: A Workshop for Allies.” The two-hour event—part info session, part call-to-arms—was hosted by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) New Haven, with several members from Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA) and Junta for Progressive Action.
The workshop was scheduled after President Donald Trump’s sweeping anti-immigrant executive order signed last month and the commencement of stepped-up immigration raids in cities across the country.
“We’re here to figure out how we can play a supportive role,” said organizer Megan Fountain. “There are a lot of people in here who want to support immigrant rights here tonight. And we want to get everyone plugged in”
Wading through 10 years of back story — alleged police misconduct and a rash of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in Fair Haven in 2006 and 2007, New Haven’s Elm City ID Card, Barack Obama’s two-millionth deportation in spring 2014, and the concern of actions promised against “sanctuary cities” like New Haven by President Trump — Fountain motioned to sheets that attendees had been given at the door. She asked people to read along as Anna Robinson-Sweet took the mic.
The documents offered concrete steps for audience members to take to support immigrant families facing possible deportation.
Robinson-Sweet and Fountain went through each option methodically, looking on as attendees filled out a request for their names, cell numbers, email addresses, information about access to a car, and political actions.
First, Robinson-Sweet said, there was outreach—knocking on doors with ULA members, passing out “Know Your Rights” literature, and becoming a “Know Your Rights” trainer with the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA).
Or, said Fountain, attendees could practice direct action. Singling out attendee Melinda Tuhus for her role in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline Tuesday afternoon, Fountain (who has also been arrested while protesting) pointed to civil disobedience as a way to compel local legislators to take action. ULA Founder John Lugo also advocated mobilizing as part of ULA’s rapid response team and marshaling at marches.
From the audience, first-year Yale law student Ellen Monkemeier advocated becoming a legal observer, for which one does not specifically have to be a lawyer or a lawyer in training. The program trains those interested in the law and its discontents to watch as protesters interact with the police, supposedly making the police more aware of their actions.
As the two continued to list off options, Fair Haven School teacher Dave Weinreb filled in his sheet. He decided he could drive immigrants to court dates and wanted to become a “Know Your Rights” trainer, on call for rapid response. He was up for civil disobedience training. And he asked if SURJ could involve some of his sixth graders, many of whom came into the school without English skills.
At the front of the room, Fountain continued with the list. No matter their political background, she suggested, attendees could become local and statewide advocates, partnering with groups like ULA, CIRA, SURJ and Junta to speak with Mayor Toni Harp, the New Haven Board of Alders, state senators and representatives and other elected officials about protecting Sanctuary City policies and updates tp and firm support for the 2013 Connecticut Trust Act
Connecticut Bail Fund explained why: bail bonds for immigrants picked up by ICE are often set as cash only—and too expensive for families to afford alone.
Stepping forward, ULA Founder John Lugo gave another suggestion: manning an immigration raid hotline, for which attendees might also have a phone tree on hand. While Spanish is required to man it, he added, there was no reason not to commit it to your phone, just to have it in case raids began popping up overnight.
“This is now,” he said, referencing an early-afternoon scare with Homeland Security officers at Union Station (which turned out not to involve immigration).
Attendees can also accompany immigrants to their court dates, added Fountain. Close to the middle of the room, New Havener Molly Wheeler’s hand shot up.
“My Spanish is really rusty, but I still have a car,” she said. “Can I help drive people?”
Fountain and Lugo nodded. You never know who might be in need of a ride, a helping hand, or free childcare the day of, said Fountain. Facilitator Natalie Alexander popped her head in with another reminder: Many undocumented immigrants also speak English.
New Havener Roberto Irizarry, a professor of Latin-American literature at the University of New Haven, had come with pressing questions about his eligibility to help as a fellow Latino who also might be profiled. He said he left with a new sense of urgency and vigilance, he said.
“I’m here tonight because of my desire to help people who are being subjected to unfair treatment,” he said, noting that he too had experienced stereotyping when he arrived in New Haven from Puerto Rico several years ago. “Even the question ‘are you American?’ feel complicated to me. So I’m definitely going to take part in action, and stay involved.”
Varun Khatzar, a bilingual tutor and Connecticut Students for a Dream volunteer living in South Windsor, said that he too felt invigorated, and better informed, after the event.
“A lot of my close friends and students are undocumented, and I’m watching what they’re going through,” he said, noting an almost palpable anxiety that had begun to fall over his tutoring sessions. “I need to get more people involved. This seemed like a good place to be.”