The Complexity of Illegality: The Unseen Sides of Immigration

Patricia Oprea

With this upcoming election, more people than ever are beginning or expanding an interest in politics. This was supported at the University of New Haven by a student-filled Alumni Lounge on Mar. 29. Here, guest speakers Ana Maria Rivera-Forastieri and Alok Bhatt addressed undocumented immigration and the specificities in Connecticut.

Panelists began to highlight their own involvement in the field of law and government. Rivera-Forastieri is currently director of advocacy and program development at Junta For Progressive Action– the oldest latino-aiding organization in New Haven. She works with current laws, figuring out if they are just or unjust. Bhatt works for the Connecticut Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission as a legislative analysis.

Rivera-Forastieri developed a passion for what she calls “anti-enforcement.” After visiting an immigration jail and seeing migration patterns, she was shocked to see who was incarcerated and what their stories were. Rivera-Forastieri then volunteered to do “know your rights” presentations, helping people understand the system. Rivera-Forastieri describes the intensity of the work; “Now I have no idea whether these people are dead or alive.” She mentions how most people get deported to Honduras, a dangerous nation marked by gang violence, and often, not even their country of origin.

Rivera-Forastieri describes a former concept in New Haven called “Secure Communities.” However, this managed to do nearly the opposite. People’s fingerprints for minor crimes were sent from the local police to ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Police were taking forms and holding people for a government agency without a warrant. Immigrants went from being arrested (for minor things), to being deported, separated from everything they had built.

Rivera-Forastieri describes how police were picking people to match criteria, just to get them in the system, to get fingerprints. She tells the story of one man who was taken in by police because he matched the suspect description, when it turns out he wasn’t the suspect, but his fingerprints were already taken, and he was thus deported for being an illegal immigrant.

“Billions of dollars are spent deporting people with zero criminal convictions,” says Rivera-Forastieri.

A student chimes in saying if all were to be deported; the country would see “a huge collapse in our economic system- fast food, construction, third party contractors, etc.” About 70 percent of people deported were not convicted of a felony. They were brought into the system for the purpose of deportation. “What are we doing as a country sending people back to their deaths,” states Rivera-Forastieri, describing the fate of 83 people, and many more, seeking asylum, only to find themselves deported to Honduras.

On one hand, illegal immigrants, like Cubans, are protected once they arrive in the U.S. They cannot be deported. One student says “There shouldn’t be a difference between which people are deported and which aren’t.” While another student mentions the political undertones of a snub to the Cuban government “your government is so bad, we’ll offer shelter to anyone that comes here.”

Rivera-Forastieri then describes Sanctuary Cities; essentially, a city geared to pass policies for safe treatment of its immigrant community. New Haven is a sanctuary city.
In fact, it was the first city in the United States to grant a municipal ID to anyone regardless of their immigration/legality status.

In 2011, another important victory was passed in CT. Beforehand, undocumented immigrants had to pay out-of state tuition to attend an in-state college. Bill H6390 allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition for in-state colleges, after completion of 4 years of high school. Now, 2015 bill H6844 states that these students are eligible upon completion of two years of high school

In 2012, 14 billion USD were spent on immigration reinforcement. Money is being spent to specifically target illegal and legal immigrants, rather than allocating it to catch actual criminals. The panelists urge students to inform themselves with these facts and to find out the laws of their city and state too, even attending public hearings. Rivera-Forastieri also states the importance of becoming legalized. “There’s nothing to prevent deportation other than being a citizen.”