Wednesday, February 13, 2008


The town of Danbury, Connecticut has found itself embroliled in the All American issue of immigration.

The city's business and citizens are up in arms over a proposal championed by the mayor and the town council to partner the town with federal immigration police.

Under the recently passed proposal, police officers will receive training through the 287(g) program, which will give those officers the ability to enforce federal immigration law.

And without a doubt engage in a little racial profiling.

Surely, you'd think, the town's elected leaders would pay a little attention to the uproar the proposal has caused in their town.

But then as the OD has noted time and again those local authorities whom John McCain touts never seem all that inclined to listen to the residents on whose behalf they are supposedly working.

While ye olde mayor says the plan isn't to round up undocumented workers, no one outside maybe his immediate family believes him. Immigrants are fleeing the city in droves and business on main street is drying up.

The New Times reports at the tiny Galapagos Restaurant on Ives Street, owner Claudio Regaldo says business is dead.

"Customers are coming into my restaurant, shaking my hand, saying, "Thank you for your service, thank you for all that you have done, but we are leaving Danbury,'" Regaldo said.

He said his customers are moving to other nearby more tolerant towns.

Carmine Cohen, a U.S. citizen who has owned I C Video & Music on White Street for 10 years, began to weep Friday while discussing the ICE program. Her ethnic customers are scared.

"I'm Jewish. I can't sleep. I feel this stuff that is going on is like the Nazis," she told the New Times.

Emanuela Lima, whose family owns Tribuna newspaper points out a downtown full of empty stores hurts everyone.

"This measure will impact everyone in Danbury, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, document and undocumented," Lima said. "There is a much more organized front because of that."

Celia Bacelar wrote in the Tribuana:

"If approved, it is not hard to envision what it [287(g)] will do to the local economy."

Fear of the unknown and the unpredictable will keep people inside their homes, preventing them from going to local businesses such as restaurants, retail stores, supermarkets, and so on."

In terms of public safety, the fear of having their immigration status checked will stop residents from cooperating with and, more importantly, trusting local police. They likely won’t come forward to report criminal activity in their neighborhoods, or they might hesitate to offer information that might help prevent or solve a crime."

And this will compromise the safety of the whole population."

Think about the vulnerability of the individuals who clean your houses, mow your lawns, paint, built and renovate your properties, that – if stopped for a simple traffic violation – could have their legalization process compromised by the 287(g) program."

Immigrants are part of the daily life and social fabric of our city. Most make great contributions to the economic growth and well-being of our population through their businesses, self-employment services and volunteerism."

Those who pushed the council to pass the measure say they are concerned about crime and the like...or so they say. However, Wilson Hernandez, VP of the Ecaudorian Civic Center of Greater Danbury, pointed his finger right back at them, "What's really a threat to the community are those who are disseminating anti-immigrant sentiments, either because they are xenophobics, either because they are racist or just because they are intolerant of people who are a "threat" for this community, for Connecticut, for United States or for the world."

On Feb. 6, as the Council met to discuss the program a crowd of 5,000 immigrants and allies rallied outside.

The crowd was much larger than expected. It was one of the largest immigrant rights demonstrations in the city's history. In addition to thousands of people from the immigrant community in Danbury, buses traveled from Hartford and many carpools came from all over the state. The local Brazilian and Ecuadorian communities mobilized heavily for the demonstration.

Immigrant-owned businesses all over Danbury also shut down for the day to protest the vote on implementing 287(g).

Despite it all the Council voted overwhelmingly to seek a partnership with U.S. immigration and customs enforcement.

It's high time these anti-immigrant yahoos get over it. It's high time our great leaders (local and national) listen to someone but the Minuteman types, people who live thousands of miles from the border in towns full of happy white people (living in fear of everyone but themselves), and, of course, Lou Dobbs. Maybe if they'd talk to people who live in places with large populations of immigrants (and, oh my gosh, undocumented workers), or those who live along our borders they would hear a different story. Maybe if the debate wasn't focused on the right to drive but on the right to be a human being...maybe, maybe, maybe...

The following is from the Fairfield County Weekly News (Connecticut).

Impetus On Main Street

It was literally written on the walls.

More than 150 businesses on and around Danbury's Main Street were darkened, empty and plastered with pink signs, reading This store will be closed on Wednesday, Feb 6 in protest of the 287(g) proposal in Danbury.

It was not so subtly suggested in a television/YouTube spot featuring $20 bills falling into a fiery abyss, from the Danbury Businesses for a Better Community Coalition, which organized the Main Street shutdown.

It was on the minds of the 4,000 protesters who swarmed City Hall in sharp objection to the Common Council's 287(g) proposal—which passed last week by a 19-2 vote and allows federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to train and deputize local police. "We pay taxes! We pay taxes!" was a rallying cry. It was made evident by the prominence of business owners and labor unions at the rally.

The citywide battle over undocumented immigration now has a distinctly economic edge to it.

"The emotional arguments are not always cutting it," said Emanuela Lima, editor of the trilingual newspaper Tribuna. "Money will talk a lot louder than 3,000 voices," she says, a reference to the head count at previous rallies.

Beyond the dominating theme of economics, attendees interviewed by the Weekly also brought up all the usual political points and ideological arguments:

"As a result of the actions of the mayor, Danbury is ahead of the country in anti-immigrant sentiment," said Stamford attorney and organizer Philip Berns.

"This is a waste of resources.?... Why don't they go after the people in the housing projects who are selling crack and abusing the system, instead of people who are here to work hard and can't even access that system," said Dave Eldritch, a former Shelton police officer.

"I came here from South Africa in 1962 to get away from a place where the police would come in the middle of the night and round up people who were working hard for their families," said 36-year Danbury resident Patricia Weiner.

But the leaders of the thunderous rally were the members of Danbury's business community, who brought a nearly unanimous message: Immigrants are leaving Danbury or locking themselves in their homes, and that's bad for business.

Melilenia Torres, owner of the Main Street Diner, said, "I believe this new law will hurt business really bad. In the last month, it went down 50 percent. I know a lot of people who have said they had to get out of town."

Business owners all say that their costumers are leaving, heading back to Brazil or Ecuador in some cases, or trying their luck in Bridgeport or New Haven in others.

"Danbury is not New York City; it is not a place with tourists. People just come here and work" said Luis Bautisia, owner of a restaurant and two rental properties. "I have two vacant units. I don't have money to pay my mortgages if I don't rent."

The terms "Main Street" and "immigrant business community" can be used somewhat synonymously in Danbury. While a few banks and insurance companies remain downtown, ethnic restaurants; exotic gift shops; media outlets specializing in foreign CDs and DVDs; travel agencies; and beauty salons, tax agencies and medical offices that have bi- or trilingual staff have carved a niche for themselves in the area that the Danbury Fair Mall dried up in the late-'80s.

"Ten years ago, this place was a ghost town," said an owner of a 30-year downtown staple who preferred not to be named. "They are upset because they worked for this, and fear it could be a ghost town again."

Mayor Mark Boughton says it's all one big misunderstanding. He has pointed out that in previous protests, many of those who have stood in front of City Hall have been activist kids bused in from area colleges. "That's fair in America," he told us, "but they don't show the sentiment of Danbury."

Those buses again made the trip on Feb. 6; organizer Jean Hislop says at least two came down from Hartford. But the new segment of interlopers were union members, the traditional demonstrators for bread and butter issues.

Marty Goodman of the United Transit Workers says there "isn't enough pressure coming from the outside" into Danbury. The Manhattan resident says "as the economy gets worse, there will be more scapegoating, and once the employers separate the supposedly legal and supposedly illegal, they will have won."

The United Healthcare Workers Local 1199 unveiled a banner at the march. "Many of our workers come from the islands, like Haiti," said union spokesperson Deborah Chernoff. "We feel a responsibility to keep our communities safe and welcoming as a matter of underlining ideology."

The schism between City Hall and the immigrant community was perhaps made official when Tribuna, Danbury's biweekly, trilingual newspaper since 2000, dropped its support of Boughton on the day of the 287(g) vote.

Last November, despite his alignment with a Republican Town Committee campaigning on 287(g), Tribuna endorsed Boughton, as did the Danbury News-Times, the city's English-only daily—and for many of the same reasons.

"We thought he had the strongest plans for the economy, building and infrastructure," says Lima, the paper's editor in chief and executive director. "It's not just immigration issues that we care about. We are Danburians, and we look at who has the best plan for all of Danbury."

Lima says the editorial board "drew a line in the sand" when Common Council hearings focused on "all the good things this would supposedly bring to the city without studying it much deeper."

The paper will "no longer support a mayor who would pass a plan that would also deport immigrant workers, who came to this country legally and don't have a green card because they are waiting for the conclusion of their legalization process. A plan that could take children away from good parents, divide families and close businesses owned by honest people who have contributed greatly to this city," it stated in an editorial.

"If I got all the misinformation that comes from activists and is printed in a few biweekly newspapers, I'd be pretty upset too," says Boughton.

He reiterates his usual defense of the 287(g)/ICE ACCESS program: It won't be used for wholesale raids, will not target day laborers and average workers and will empower two detectives who'll be after violent criminals.

He has "no idea" if people are leaving Danbury over this. And the "big economic issue is the [national] economy. We're at all time low in issuing building permits."

Boughton's Dec. 14 State of the City Address indicated a rosy economy, noting that "While the downturn in the residential real estate market has impacted many areas, Danbury continues to be a desirable place to raise a family. Our business community continues to enjoy a positive economic climate and a positive outlook."

"That was before the housing crash," Boughton says; foreclosures, he adds, have since increased in and around Danbury.

Moreover, he says, "If you tailor your business to a small segment of the population, it's going to be at risk. This is a chance for these businesses to expand and adapt and reach a broader audience."

As for Tribuna's decision to drop its support: "They are under a lot of pressure from people who are against this; advertisers have dropped out because of it."

Categorically not true, says Lima. "We may have had one or two people who have stopped taking out ads because they can no longer afford to," she says. "We're doing this because most of our staff are immigrants, and because we know how hard it is to come here. We don't forget that."

"It's two police officers who will go after violent criminals," says Breno da Mata, editor of the Portugese-language Comunidade News. "That is my understanding, and that is what we've been reporting."

He added "I doubt Mark Boughton reads Portuguese so maybe someone mis-translated it for him, but I think this is a matter of politics...

"People are scared because they don't trust Mark Boughton," da Mata adds, "not because they read my newspaper or misunderstand what the police and city say."

Boughton, who plans to organize a committee to try and quell the uproar over 287(g), seemed reflective when asked if there was more that his office could have done to explain the program to all the people who are against it: "You know, we can always do more."

Manuel Bataguas, president of the Danbury Businesses for a Better Community Coalition and publisher of the newsletter The Immigrant, says he's been harsh against the program in editorials but that he too understands it's two officers after dangerous criminals, "or so that's what they say."

He explains the disconnect between Main Street and City Hall this way: "They do not understand what it is like to be fearful, and they do not represent all of the people; only fifteen percent of the people in Danbury voted last election."

Well, whose fault is that?

"Yes, that is a good point" said Bataguas. "This is the first time the people are acting together as one. We will use this to build a permanent coalition."

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