“People’s Congress” Demands Action

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.

Sitting Down

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.”

Standing Up

Thomas MacMillan PhotoTen 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.”


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posted by: Christopher Schaefer on April 2, 2013  6:01pm

“Activists said they have called, written to, and met with DeLauro’s staff about Islas, and seen no action from the congresswoman…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”.  Here’s the problem: I’ll bet Unidad Latina en Accion (which organized the demonstration) hasn’t made any significant contributions to DeLauro’s re-election campaign. Just check the last election cycle: http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/contrib.php?type=C&cid=N00000615&newMem=N&cycle=2012 Do you see ANY Latino organizations or PACs on the list? I’ve been getting campaign donation solicitations from DeLauro since mid-January—just 2 weeks after she was sworn in for her current term! How much money have YOU given? Sorry, amigos, but if you don’t pony up you won’t be heard. That’s how it has worked in the 3rd district for over 22 years.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on April 3, 2013  8:59am

It would have been nice if some facts about this organization, the leaders,and their real agenda , instead of the propaganda that was distributed by the leaders of this organization to the press, which they contacted prior to the event, to create a press event. Yes, it was orchestrated, and the press manipulated, but the lack of effort put into this article by the author, and her editor, is insulting.
  Issues to be examined about this group begin with the person they are trying to maintain in the US, although they are aware Islas is not some unfortunate illegal alien being picked on. He entered illegally, he was not born on US soil, or brought in as an infant. No, Islas illegally entered three times.With the help of this group. This may be why in their manifesto they opening demand open borders. Yes, no controls over anyone that wishes to enter into the US.
  A second issue is the support for the actions of this group by YALE UNIVERSITY and the YALE DIVINITY SCHOOL. They have walked into meetings, protests, assemblies, under the banner of doing this on the bidding of the YALE UNIVERSITY and DIVINITY SCHOOL. Now whenever they are questioned on this, they become vague, but always, continue to do this, but truth be told on orchestrating this demonstration, very much in the way most political movements in Latin American nations do to spread their lies, in the form of propaganda, an email to the entire YALE DIVINITY SCHOOL was sent out, the night before, describing their intent to take over the office of RLD.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on April 3, 2013  9:57am

Protests like this are really so passé and, I daresay, quite tiresome. Check the link in my previous post:  The Postal Workers Union only had to give $15,000 for DeLauro to express outrage over cutbacks in obsolete snail-mail delivery. American Crystal Sugar only had to give $10,000 for DeLauro to support artificial govt. price supports for sugar. In fact, it would appear from that list that $10,000 is the low bid to get DeLauro’s “attention”. It seems to me that this would be a rather easy sum for Yale Div. students to collect if they were truly serious about promoting their cause, and not just trying to re-enact a 1960s “student sit-in”. Groovy—but terribly outdated. And definitely NOT how today’s government works.

posted by: Megan on April 3, 2013  9:41pm

Christopher Shaeffer says that sit-ins are “outdated.” Well, Unidad Latina en Accion has been taking direct action and getting things done lately. Remember when ULA stormed into Mayor DeStefano’s office unannounced and surprised him with giant Christmas card asking for the creation of the Elm City Resident Card?  That’s just one of the many actions that led New Haven to become the first city in the US to create an ID card for all residents regardless of immigration status, a step forward that won New Haven the “All-American City” award and was followed by similar initiatives in five other cities. Remember when ULA picketed Goodfellas Restaurant for four months and recovered thousands of dollars owed to workers who had been paid less than minimum wage and no overtime? The toothless Labor Department had already fined the restaurant several times for wage theft, but nothing had changed, so ULA used direct action to get things done. Direct action is how people who don’t have money get things done. It’s our only hope for reviving the democratic process.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on April 4, 2013  9:04am

Megan Fountain : “It’s our only hope for reviving the democratic process.” Actually imposing term limits on members of Congress and severely limiting campaign donations by special interest groups also would do much to revive the democratic process. These 2 steps never will happen via legislation or constitutional amendments, because those who currently hold power utterly depend upon maintaining this status quo. But EVERYONE has the opportunity to enact these 2 steps themselves, every time there is an election—by dumping ALL incumbents who have served a maximum of 3 terms in the House or 2 terms in the Senate. There actually was a time in our country’s history when one left one’s job to serve govt. as a “public service” for a relatively brief time, then returned to civilian life. It simply was a given that all understood that this was how govt. worked, so our “founding fathers” never considered it necessary to write term limits into the Constitution. It’s the modern careerist politicians who have destroyed our system of govt., by turning it into a self-serving, life-time, money-making career. The ultimate irony is that nearly every member of Congress, regardless of political party, belongs to the much-derided “one percent”—thanks to cronyism.