Marchers uphold immigrant rights

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. — After residents were terrorized by a federal immigration raid, the usually busy streets of this city’s Fair Haven neighborhood were silent for a week and a half. The silence was broken June 16, as over 1,000 marched in solidarity wearing signs declaring, “No human being is illegal.”

“This was truly unity in action,” exclaimed Fatima Rojas, a leader of the immigrant rights organization Unidad Latina en Accion. “I can feel those words moving forward.”

As the families of the 32 people who were detained struggle through their nightmare, neighbors, union members, clergy, elected officials and community groups are taking a stand against Homeland Security’s attempt to intimidate a city that has opened its doors to new immigrants.

The multiracial crowd from all walks of life gathered at Front Street’s waterfront park. Holding a large red and white “Stop the raids now” banner, Mayor John DeStefano, members of the Board of Aldermen, clergy and John Wilhelm, president of Unite Here’s hospitality division, led the march down Grand Avenue.

Even thunder, lightning and pouring rain failed to dampen marchers’ spirits during the two-mile procession to City Hall. Shopkeepers and residents came out to wave and cheer.

As the rain persisted when the march reached City Hall, DeStefano opened the doors and ushered the marchers into the atrium. The overflow crowd lined the balcony railings above.

“Welcome to your City Hall,” said DeStefano, calling New Haven’s 15,000 recent immigrants, largely from Latin America, “hardworking people who want to see their families do better.” The mayor pledged, “We will stand together. New Haven will issue the first ID card in the country available to anyone regardless of immigration status.”

The raid came less than 36 hours after the Board of Aldermen voted to establish the Elm City (New Haven) Resident Card for city services and banking.

“If they want to make an example of us, they picked the wrong town,” declared Pastor Emilio Hernandez of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy. Urging African Americans, Puerto Ricans and all ethnic groups to join the struggle, he emphasized, “United we stand, divided we will never win.”

Wilhelm thanked all the locals of his union for turning out, from Yale, Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., and read a statement from veteran civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

Saying he could never forget the terror of the Klan knocking on the door in the middle of the night, Lewis linked immigrants’ struggle for equality today with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“Today in New Haven, and elsewhere in this great country, that knock has returned,” he said of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Under the cover of law, the law is broken. Under the claim of homeland security, the security of homes is violated. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, peaceful families are terrorized.”

Calling New Haven a “shining light,” Lewis urged the city “to resist as we resisted those who beat down our doors, who raided our communities, who sundered our lives and the lives of our children.”

Praising New Haven for declaring itself a sanctuary city, he called for everyone to “carry the identity card of the New Haven family,” concluding, “You, we, our America — will prevail.”

Marchers’ donations will help the families and go toward bail for their detained relatives. Supporters are urging members of Congress to intervene on behalf of the New Haven detainees and calling for lowering the $15,000 bond on which many are being held. A federal court hearing on the case was scheduled for June 20 in Hartford, the state capital.

Meanwhile, New Haven is discussing the ID card with departments and social service agencies, including how it will be made available to the public after July 1.