Immigrants in Hartford: Challenges and Solidarity

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By Josh Michtom, Hartford Deportation Defense Group

Hartford’s immigrant community, especially those who are undocumented or who have family members who are undocumented, finds itself in a complicated moment. Explicit anti-immigrant policies at the national level have created a sense of real peril. The federal government has become more cruel in enforcing immigration laws, even against people who have lived in this country for years and become important and beloved members of their communities. We also see, in news from around the country, how the attitudes of national leaders embolden some Americans to take hateful action against immigrants, from speech to violence.

On the other hand, Hartford is a fairly welcoming place for immigrants, no matter their status. Hartford is officially a sanctuary city, and city government has taken some limited steps to stop cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Practically speaking, ours is a city of immigrants, where many languages are spoken – our neighbors come from Jamaica, Honduras, Peru, Nepal, Somalia, Brazil, Albania, and many other nations. In response to the negative turn in national politics, there has also been a strengthening of grassroots work led by immigrants to resist ICE and support one another: in Hartford and other Connecticut cities, immigrants and their neighbors are organizing to share information, accompany each other to court, help each other with rides and fundraising for legal fees, and advocate publicly for their rights. This work helps all of us connect to our collective power, making our cities real sanctuaries where all people can thrive.

Hartford has not seen large-scale immigration raids by federal agents yet, but day-to-day life for undocumented people here is shadowed by fear and uncertainty. ICE agents are sometimes spotted outside our schools and courts, looking for specific people. Although state government is supposed to protect immigrants without papers, there have been occasions when people trying to handle simple cases in state court – like a minor offense or traffic violation – are held by court marshals when ICE requests it. The rumors and anxiety that come from even a handful of incidents like this can make every part of daily life feel dangerous.

And even without the threat of deportation or detention, life for undocumented people has always been hard. They are always subject to exploitation from landlords and employers. They can’t get access to the same services that citizens can, so everything from going to the emergency room to trying to report harassment on the job is more complicated. And when rumors swirl about which state or city agencies might report to ICE, it can be scary to do something as simple as taking your child to school.

Advocacy groups from around the state, led by the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, recently persuaded the legislature to adopt a new law meant to give immigrants more protection. As of October 1, police and court employees should be prevented from detaining people for ICE unless they have a felony conviction. This new law is an important reason why local immigrant support groups are so important: not only did they help to get the law passed, but they can provide court accompaniment to make sure the law is followed, and can help make sure a person’s immigration lawyer and public defender have all the information they need to protect that person’s rights.

There are two important things that undocumented people in Hartford should do: First, everyone should know their rights. No one has to tell a police officer or ICE agent their immigration status. In fact, no one has to tell an ICE agent anything at all. We know that ICE will threaten immigrants and try to trick them into revealing information about their status or identity. Sometimes, agents will say that cooperating with them and giving them information will help a person’s case. It never does. When approached by ICE, people should ask for an arrest warrant that has their name on it and is signed by a judge. If ICE doesn’t have one, they should just say, “I need to speak to my lawyer.”

The other important thing immigrants can do is connect with a community support group. There is no better way for someone to learn about their rights; to find out which risks are real and which ones are just rumors; and to connect with trustworthy legal help and other resources.

Lastly, if you or someone you know sees ICE agents in the community, make sure to document it with photos or video; record the exact time and location of the incident; do what you can to make sure people are safe; and immediately reach out to the statewide rapid response network by calling 475-323-9413. While it is very important to share this information with each other, we must be responsible and thorough before we spread fear with unverified information through social networks.