While U.S. Congress sat in recess awaiting a major upcoming bill on immigration reform, activists stormed U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s office Tuesday morning to demand swift action.
Organizer Gregory Williams described the demonstration as the first session of the “People’s Congress.” A dozen activists took part in the action, calling for DeLauro to lead the charge on immigration reform and to intervene in the case of a New Haven immigrant who is set to be deported.
The demonstration was the first of two immigration-themed events on Tuesday morning. Two hours after the sit-in at DeLauro’s office, U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal spoke with Mayor John DeStefano and others at the Columbus Family Academy on Blatchley Avenue in Fair Haven. Both groups are hoping this is the year for immigration reform: a bipartisan group of eight senators has been working to craft an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws. They are expected to release a bill this week that would include a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Tuesday morning’s sit-in began at 9 a.m. as a demonstration on the sidewalk outside DeLauro’s office at 59 Elm St. Protestors marched and chanted while holding signs.
Organizers called not only for broader reform, but also sought to intervene on behalf of a New Havener who faces deportation. They sought to pressure DeLauro to advocate for Josemaria Islas, a Mexican immigrant who was handed over to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency after being arrested and cleared of dubious charges. Islas faces deportation under ICE’s controversial Secure Communities program. Activists said they have called, written to, and met with DeLauro’s staff about Islas, and seen no action from the congresswoman.
At about 9:15 a.m., a dozen activists went inside and installed themselves in a hallway of DeLauro’s offices, where the congresswoman was not in. They sang and chanted and gave speeches about the need for immigration reform, to stop families from being torn apart by deportations.
Mark Colville rang a bell every two minutes, representing a statistic that an immigrant is deported every two minutes on average. Activists followed the sound of the bell with shouts of “Not one more! Not one more!”
“I’m happy to listen to them,” said Jennifer Lamb (pictured, standing), DeLauro’s district director. She said staff from the office have met with activists several times to discuss the case of Islas’ deportation. She said DeLauro will be meeting with the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance in the next several weeks.
DeLauro’s office has been in touch with ICE about Islas. John Lugo, one of the sit-in’s organizers, said phone calls aren’t enough. He called on DeLauro to write a letter to ICE Director John Morton to demand prosecutorial discretion be exercised to end the deportation proceedings against Islas. “It’s one thing to call. It’s another thing to say, ‘You need to close this case.’”
Activists had been expecting to be arrested. But Lamb said she saw no need to call the cops. “People have a right to express their opinions.”
The activists occupied the hallway for close to three hours before bringing the event to a close, Williams (pictured) said later.
“The first session of the People’s Congress was a success,” he said. “We are now in recess.”
Ten years after his mom brought him from Ecuador, Christian Proano has found the opportunity she hoped to give him. Now he wants to make sure she isn’t left behind.
Proano (pictured with his mom, Amparo) was a featured speaker at a Tuesday morning event calling for lawmakers to finish the job.
Proano, who’s now 23, joined U.S. Sen. Blumenthal, Mayor DeStefano and others at a podium at Columbus Family Academy.
The country faces a “generational opportunity” offered by immigration reform, said Mayor DeStefano (pictured). Immigration makes the country stronger and more robust, he said. “This is good for everybody. It’s not a zero-sum game.”
“American can truly lead the world,” said Blumenthal. He said the country needs to create a clear path to citizenship for people who have been living in the country without documentation, obeying laws and paying taxes. He also called for crack down on immigrant employment enforcement, to ensure all workers are being well treated, improved border security, and streamlining the process for people trying to enter the country legally.
The U.S. currently rounds up 1,100 people for deportation each day, said Kica Matos, of the Center for Community Change.
Junta For Progressive Action’s Ana Maria Rivera called for a moratorium on deportations, as did Fatima Rojas, a Columbus school parent and member of UNITE HERE.
Proano, who’s from Manchester, spoke of the difficulties of being an undocumented immigrant. He said he couldn’t get a job or a driver’s license during high school. All that changed last November when he was accepted into the federal government’s new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides children of undocumented immigrants a two-year safeguard against deportation. He got a work permit, a social security number, a driver’s license.
Now Proano has a good job as a computer tech for Cigna and is working to build on his associate’s degree with a bachelor’s from Western New England College.
“But I’m still not happy,” Proano said. He said his parents, who don’t have documents, still don’t have access to a driver’s license, and can’t get good jobs. “They deserve to have a family here, not only me.”
Livia Gutierrez (pictured), 39-year-old from Ecuador, recounted how, when her son turned 16 and asked to get a driver’s license, she had to break the bad news to him: “Sorry, but you’re illegal too in this country.” Like Proano, her son has now received deferred action, Gutierrez said. She said it’s only a matter of time before she can be a citizen too.
“This is my country,” she said. “This is part of me. I’m really happy, and I’m waiting.”