Is our state legislature failing Connecticut’s immigrant communities?

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In times of open hostility, from the President of the United States, trickling down to our institutions and communities toward immigrants and people of color, we find it outrageous that the Connecticut General Assembly has refused to respond to the demands of the people for peace and equity and to pass legislation that would benefit our immigrant community.

While racism and xenophobia have never been absent from our society, the tirades of a tyrant have recently enabled, and even justified, multiple forms of violence against our community. Members of our state legislature have been quick to distance themselves from the Trump administration, but have not taken any steps that would amount to more than lip service. We cannot react with silence to such cowardly inaction. Failing to take action this legislative session is an affront to our values of equality, fairness and dignity.

The Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA), a statewide coalition with over 40 member organizations, prioritized two bills this legislative session: equalizing access to Institutional Aid for Undocumented Students and improving the Connecticut Trust Act. While far from a resolution to systematic racism and oppression, the legislatuve has had an opportunity to pass policies which would alleviate some of the pressures of these prejudices.

For the fourth consecutive year, the General Assembly, and particularly Democratic leadership, despite having sufficient votes in at least one chamber, has failed to call a bill up for a vote that would equalize access to institutional aid at Connecticut’s public institutions for higher education to undocumented immigrant students.

The tireless advocacy of Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D), and the hundreds of thousands of people that have joined their plight, has brought this struggle to local, state, and national attention. Despite contributing to need-based aid reserves with their tuition dollars, undocumented students have been restricted from accessing these funds.

Access to institutional aid would cost the state nothing, and afford students a fairer chance at achieving a college degree. House Bill 7000: An Act Equalizing Access to Student Generated Aid (HB7000) and Senate Bill 17: An Act Assisting Students Without Legal Immigration Status with the Cost of Higher Education (SB17) would both advance greater equity in education. Last Friday, the Senate finally called SB17 for debate, but it was nothing more than an empty gesture. One more Democratic vote would have guaranteed the passage of the bill out of the Senate, but instead after a two-hour debate the bill was tabled.

Additionally, in flouting the concerns of Connecticut’s diverse immigrant community, while federal immigration authorities execute a rogue enforcement agenda to separate families and destabilize communities, the Judiciary Committee refused to give a public hearing for a proposal which would update Connecticut’s Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act.

Connecticut’s current TRUST Act, which passed unanimously in 2013, limits cooperation between state and local police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The CT Department of Corrections (DOC) subsequently adapted a more progressive policy.  However, access to state databases, and a lack of consistent policy regarding their interaction with judicial and other essential services, enables ICE to violate individuals’ rights and undermine Connecticut’s own established protections. Even more troubling is that no bill to address attacks against immigrants and refugees was raised by the committee.

Affirmative steps to support immigrant communities have taken place within Connecticut and elsewhere. The legislature’s failure to act represents a lack of political will. We cannot allow politicians to play games with the lives of our friends, families, and communities. As much as the institutional aid bill is about educational equity, and the Trust Act about effective community policing and responsible state spending, these proposals are also about our state’s support (or lack thereof) of immigrants. Our legislature should be fiercely and actively finding ways to improve the lives immigrant communities, not delaying justice under the false veil of process and procedure.

While the chances of passing the Trust Act at this juncture are slim to none, the Institutional Aid Bill is still alive and has a good chance of passing the House. Will the Democratic leadership in the House show a little courage and call HB 7000 up for a vote?

Ana María Rivera and Alok Bhatt represent the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance.

 

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