Immigrants respond to proposed New London resolution
New London — Ahead of a vote Monday on a resolution that would reaffirm the city’s existing immigration practices, it seems everyone has weighed in except the immigrants themselves.
Members of People Power, the group that proposed the resolution, believe it will make immigrants more comfortable walking down the street and, when applicable, reporting crimes perpetrated against them.
City and police officials, who helped craft the language, agree the resolution is in keeping with state law and current protocol. Among other things, it requires federal immigration agents to furnish a warrant if they want city officials to detain someone. It also instructs officials not to ask about a person’s status unless there is “a legitimate law enforcement purpose that is unrelated to the enforcement of civil immigration law.”
This past week, The Day spoke with several immigrants of varying backgrounds to hear their thoughts. Some of them weren’t aware of the proposal and had to read it before commenting.
All of them ultimately expressed support for the resolution.
Desperation drove Lizbeth Polo-Smith, terrified and alone, to cross the United States-Mexico border about 16 years ago. It’s a path she knows wasn’t ideal and one she wouldn’t recommend to others. But poverty was so rampant in Peru when she left that she couldn’t afford diapers for her three children.
Today, Polo-Smith is happily married. Two of her children are in the States while the third is serving in the Peruvian navy. She spends much of her time working with DREAMers’ Moms Connecticut and Step Up New London, both of which aim to empower parents to address inequality.
“Undocumented immigrants are doing their best to do the right thing because they’ve planted roots here in New London and across the country,” said Polo-Smith, a Groton resident. “They have children. They have homes. They have jobs. They pay for rent. They pay taxes to the state and don’t get a return.”
Polo-Smith plans to attend the Monday evening meeting where councilors will consider the resolution. Although she knows fear may keep some immigrants away, she said she hopes many will show up. When undocumented individuals won the right to get drive-only licenses, she said, it was because they fought for it. And they fought for it, she added, because they prefer to drive legally.
Beyond the resolution, Polo-Smith said she would like to see the city create an identification card for those who are undocumented.
“That’s such a big hurdle,” she said of not having an ID. “You need an ID to rent equipment at Home Depot, to borrow a book from the library. When you don’t have one, it leads to this feeling of being less of a person.”
A husband and wife from South America — they asked for anonymity because of their undocumented status — said they like the resolution as a first step.
Each got to New London about 18 years ago, when there wasn’t a thriving Hispanic/Latino community here. They learned enough English to get by, and then a little more. They got jobs, then had a son who is now a teenager.
Their adult lives largely have been confined to the 5½-square-mile city — their undocumented status means no flights, even to other parts of the country. Yet they’ve learned to love New London. And now, after fruitlessly seeking asylum, they’re being asked to leave.
To leave could mean bringing their son to a country he has never known. Or it could mean leaving him behind at an age when he’s not prepared to fend for himself. It also would mean going to a country fraught with poverty and crime and giving up what they worked nearly two decades to build.
With that in mind, the man said he would welcome the resolution. He and his wife haven’t committed any crimes in the United States, he said. They would be more relaxed knowing they couldn’t be stopped just because of what they look like.
While he and his wife would love to attend Monday’s meeting, the man said, they don’t want to become the subjects of a heated debate.
“This is really important and it could be important if we go,” he said. “But we feel scared.”
Paloma is a native of Mexico, but she feels like a U.S. citizen. The Connecticut College student — she’s under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — came to Chicago on a visa when she was 11 months old.
Over the last several months, Paloma has read accounts of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raiding places across the country, sometimes with the help of local law enforcement. If the proposed resolution were to pass Monday, she said, she instantly would feel safer in the city.
“I won’t necessarily be detained just because I’m there,” she said. “There has to be something official that causes me to be detained.”
She also has told her story — most recently to Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication students — so others can learn about why immigrants come to the United States and what DACA is.
“At this point it is a little risky,” she said of sharing her story, “but I also recognize the importance of doing it.”
In the eyes of the Rev. Ranjit Mathews — he’s the rector at St. James Episcopal Church — all who are Christian should support the resolution.
“I want to share this from the perspective of a Christian,” he said. “How would Jesus want us to act? From the scripture, it’s clear: we need to show hospitality.”
Mathews, born in Massachusetts, is the son of immigrants. He also is married to an immigrant, and works closely with immigrants in the community.
He said he believes rhetoric at the national level has contributed to the rising number of hate crimes in the country. He has seen firsthand how immigrants — especially those without documents — have become more guarded, worried they might be the next victim.
“My hope is that this resolution would give comfort and support to people ... who haven’t done anything wrong,” Mathews said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t need to find and move toward comprehensive immigration reform. But Jesus wasn’t about fear and about separating fathers and mothers from their children. There’s got to be a more constructive way forward that doesn’t other-ize and create even more distance between people.”
Speaking by phone Saturday, People Power member Paul Rubin acknowledged that he and his peers could have reached out to more of the city’s immigrants in making the resolution. He said they plan to do so from here on out.
Asked why he thinks the resolution is necessary, Rubin noted that city administrations change and so does police leadership.
“This would set the standard going forward,” he said.
The meeting of the Public Safety Committee is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. Monday in City Council Chambers.
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