The “Keeping Families Together” Express pulled into New Haven Sunday to rev up grassroots support for national immigration reform.
The riders included Rosmery Hernandez (pictured), a Honduran-born 19-year-old community college student and office worker from Lynn, Mass. She told the crowd about how she came out as an undocumented immigrant in high school after her “so-called friends” suggested in the cafeteria one day that her family should be deported. She has since obtained legal permission to stay in the U.S. for two years, thanks to President Obama’s executive order affecting “undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children and have pursued education or military service here.” She’s hoping a bipartisan push in Congress succeeds in enabling her mother, who is also undocumented, to stay in the country along with her little brother and father (who are here legally).
Some 100 New Haven immigrant-rights supporters and UNITE/HERE union activists filled City Hall’s first floor to welcome the riders Sunday afternoon. They called for immigration reform that creates a “pathway to citizenship” for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented people. And they called for a stop to deportations of undocumented workers, including those (like New Haven’s Josemaria Islas) caught up in the federal government’s so-called “Safe Communities” sweeps.
New Haven state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a Democratic mayoral candidate, told the crowd about a bill he has sponsored this legislative session to require all local police departments to follow New Haven’s and the Malloy administration’s lead in preventing immigrants arrested on minor or flimsy charges from being deported under Safe Communities. “As a black man,” Holder-Winfield said, he understands how when people don’t view law enforcement as an ally, they hesitate to volunteer information to help keep communities safe.
New Haven was one leg of a New England-wide tour for the bus riders, one of seven groups making 90 stops in 19 states as part of the campaign. New Haven rally organizer Kica Matos, the director of immigrant rights & racial justice for the national Center for Community Change, spoke of “families ripped apart by overzealous immigration enforcement.”
Mayor John DeStefano noted that crowds filled the same building when New Haven unveiled the country’s first immigrant-friendly resident ID card. He spoke of the “importance of immigrants” to the city’s growth, as well as of New Haveners’ “responsibility to one another.”
Luis Santigo, 48, a New Havener originally from Mexico, listened along with his daughters Jade, who’s 2 1/2, and Ember, who’s 5.
Larger-than-life butterflies filled the hall, in the form of placards carried by ralliers. Those butterflies have been showing up at immigrant rights events recently. Why? “They migrate from here to Mexico. They don’t get stopped by immigration patrol,” said Colombian-born organizer John Jairo Lugo (not in photo) of New Haven’s Unidad Latina en Accion. “Migration is natural.”
After the speeches and some music, Rosmery Hernandez returned to the bus along with her compatriots. They had two more New Haven stops before returning to the highway: JUNTA for Progressive Action in Fair Haven, then Church of the Ascension in the Hill.