HARTFORD — In a combination of traditional protests and virtual speakers, advocates made their point Friday that the state should step in where the federal government has not to help laid off immigrants and those on the front lines working during the pandemic.
While dozens of advocates drove around the state Capitol with horns blaring, others joined a virtual Zoom call to make a plea for financial help.
Seventeen state senators and 30 members of the House have signed onto a letter to Gov. Ned Lamont to set up a $20 million disaster assistance fund for the undocumented that would be matched with $10 million in private donations, similar to what California has done.
“It’s not fair, having contributed to the economy in the country where we live, that we are excluded from federal assistance,” Carmen Lache, a member of Unidad Latina en Accion said. Like the corporations, she said immigrants are also asking for a bailout.
The advocates said their U.S. citizen children are also excluded from any benefits.
James Bhandary Alexander, an immigration specialist at the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, who helped lead the effort to promote the fund with lawmakers, said there are 100,000 undocumented immigrants in Connecticut who pay $400 million in state and local taxes.
Bhandary Alexander said they are working in conjunction with over 60 nonprofits who have signed onto a petition to Lamont.
“The fund is absolutely necessary,” he said, to get beyond the current economic situation. “It is not appropriate to react in the same way as the federal government.”
Among those signing onto the letter to Lamont is Senate Pro Tempore Martin Looney and state Sen. Gary Winfield, both D-New Haven. From the House, New Haven state Reps. Juan Candelaria, Roland Lemar and Robyn Porter, also Democrats, also signed.
The demands from the immigrants and their supporters was for a $150 million fund, given the extent of the needs from food to the cost of healthcare and the debt they will fall into to make rent payments, once the 90-day extension ordered by Lamont is over.
Joining the group were labor leaders, including Sal Luciano, head of the AFL-CIO in Connecticut, who said bold action is needed in the crisis facing the country. He asked that all working people come together to support one another. For those on the front line, he said “kind words” are appreciated, but they are not enough.
“None of us will be safe unless all of us are safe,” Luciano said.
Max Reiss, spokesman for Lamont, said the governor has already issued executive orders thats help all residents.
“The administration has stepped up with multiple areas of relief where our undocumented residents can take advantage including renters relief, student loan relief, and increases to SNAP benefits,” Reiss said.
On the financial question, Reiss pointed to Lamont’s discussion Friday where he talked about budget cuts and pulling back on some tax relief that had previously been scheduled given the projected $930 million deficit for this fiscal year tied to COVID-19.
Michael Pino, of Local 90 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said all workers in essential jobs should have the necessary personal protective equipment, hazard pay and free child care. He asked that labor contracts remain in force.
Medina Mamadjonova said her husband has been in ICE detention for more than a year in Alabama. She said people here, cooped up in their homes as they follow government recommendations to stay inside to flatten the curve of the growth of COVID-19, are starting to get depressed.
She asked the listeners to imagine what it is like for her husband to be away from his family for so long, including an infant he has yet to meet. “It is heartbreaking,” she said.
Lisa Moye of Alabama said the Etowah Center where Mamadjonova’s husband is being held, is full of people from the East Coast and the West Coast, which is especially isolating for them. She is part of a group that has been working for years to have Etowah shut down.