NEW HAVEN, Conn. — “Every day it becomes more difficult to live,” testified Lupe, a mother and member of Unidad Latina en Accion, at a Sept. 15 public hearing on the status of immigrants. “Landlords exploit us. We don’t have adequate utilities. Our children test for high lead. We are asking the New Haven Board of Aldermen for help in changing the laws.”

The four-hour bilingual hearing presented the board with many proposals toward the goal of ending discriminatory practices and making New Haven a “model city” for immigrant rights.

“We came to this country because there is no work in our countries, even for professionals,” said Juan. He described how his daughter, an honors student, could not attend college because in-state tuition rates are denied to children of immigrants.

Alex described how banks refuse to set up accounts for immigrants with insufficient documents. Addressing the restrictions on driver’s licenses for immigrants, he explained, “With no car, we have to settle for jobs that can’t sustain our families.”

“We are the invisible people in our society,” said John Jairo Lugo, president of Unidad Latina en Accion. “Four years ago we decided to organize.”

Speaking on behalf of those who were afraid to come forward, Lugo told the story of one worker who was never paid after five weeks on a construction job. When confronted, the employer threatened to call immigration authorities if the worker filed a complaint with the Labor Department.

“New Haven should provide protection for these workers,” said Lugo. He described the deplorable living conditions of another immigrant worker who ended up in the hospital because his basement apartment was covered with sewage leaking in, mold and roaches. When the landlord refused to clean and repair the apartment, city inspectors were called, but nothing happened.

Unidad Latina en Accion presented 10 proposals for action. In addition to the creation of a New Haven ID, an immigrant resource center, and bilingual operators at the police and fire departments, the proposals include police training to eliminate racial profiling, and a policy of non-discrimination against immigrants in opening bank accounts.

Unidad Latina en Accion also called on the aldermen to support state and federal legislation that would guarantee a path to citizenship, family reunification, civil rights and equal rights on the job, the right to driver’s licenses and higher education for children of immigrants.

Speaking on behalf of the City of New Haven Peace Commission, Al Marder emphasized, “we can no longer deal with a situation where thousands of people are fearful of walking the streets.” The commission’s request for the hearing had condemned “national policies, under the cover of ‘fighting terrorism,’ that unleashed a campaign of harassment and fear … including the USA Patriot Act.”

Kika Matos, director of Junta for Progressive Action, urged the board to adopt an official position of non-enforcement of national immigration laws, a policy adopted by the city governments of Austin, Texas, and Denver. She also urged the establishment of a city office of immigrant affairs along the lines of those set up in Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia.

Police Sergeant Luis Casanova spoke of the department’s work with Junta to make New Haven “a model city for tolerance for immigrant rights,” and called upon the board for support to move forward.

Katrina Clark, director of the Fair Haven Community Health Clinic said while the clinic does not ask for documentation, patients without papers run into obstacles when they are referred to other doctors. Despite lack of funding, the neighborhood clinic has accepted over 1,500 patients in recent months who are new immigrants, she said.

The Board of Aldermen will be considering proposals from the hearing.

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