Washington – Donald Trump’s policies on immigration are roiling the immigrant community in Connecticut, as they are across the nation.
Since the election on Tuesday, immigrant groups in Connecticut have helped organize a number of protests across the state, including one at the University of Connecticut and others in New Haven, Stamford and Bridgeport.
“We want UConn to come up with a policy if any of us are detained,” said Carolina Bortolleto, an immigrant activist who helped organize the protest at the Storrs campus. “We want UConn to become a sanctuary community.”
Another immigrant-led demonstration is planned on Monday in Hartford.
UConn said it would continue to follow its established practice of admitting academically qualified students regardless of their residency status. But it’s unclear how UConn, and the rest of Connecticut, which has immigrant-friendly policies, would be able to resist changes to immigration policy ushered in by the Trump administration.
Bortolleto and her twin sister Camila emigrated with her parents from Brazil in 1998 when they were 9 years old. The family was undocumented.
Two years ago, President Obama used his executive authority to help children like the Bortolleto sisters, who were brought to this country illegally as children. He said he did so because Congress failed to act on a comprehensive immigration bill.
With an executive order called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, Obama directed the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and other federal agencies involved in apprehending and deporting the undocumented to practice “prosecutorial discretion” with those who immigrated to the United States as children and were in the country without legal status.
The DACA relief was granted to the child arrivals, who called themselves “Dreamers,” for three years at a time and has to be renewed.
Trump repeatedly has said he would reverse all of Obama’s “unconstitutional” executive orders, including the ones that altered U.S. immigration policy.
“Right now people don’t know what to expect,” Bortolleto said. “Everybody in the (immigrant) community feels things are dangerous and are scared.”
Trump has used harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric during his campaign, calling some Mexican migrants “rapists” and robbers and promising to build a border wall paid for by Mexico to stem illegal entries. He’s also said he wants to deport 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.
The anxiety immigrant advocates feel about Trump’s triumph ratcheted up Friday when Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said he is joining Trump’s transition team, taking an unpaid position to advise the president-elect.
Kobach, who has distinguished himself as an immigration hard-liner, advised Trump on immigration policy during the campaign and was successful in getting a border wall added to the GOP’s official party platform.
For now, Bortolleto said immigration advocates are advising those who have been granted provisional legal status under DACA to renew their applications as soon as possible, before Obama leaves office. But those who are turning 15 years old and eligible for the relief should hold off, she said.
“If the program may not exist anymore, why waste the application fee and put your personal information out there,” she said. “We don’t know how the Trump administration is going to use that information.”
Alex Meyerovich, an immigration attorney in Bridgeport, said, “There is a raging fear” among Connecticut’s immigrants, whether they are legal or not.
“I’ve been getting calls because people are really freaking out,” Meyerovich said.
He said there are fears “people will be targeted, people will be harassed.”
Meyerovich estimates there are about 80,000 undocumented immigrants in Connecticut, based of those who have asked for driver’s licenses.
And Meyerovich said immigrants who have legal but provisional status, and are waiting for “green cards” that grant legal residency to them or their family members, also are calling him with concerns.
Besides cracking down on undocumented migrants, Trump has indicated he wants to slow and reduce the numbers of legal migrants, too. Right now, immigrants account for about 10 percent of the growth of the nation’s population.
Mohamed Riaz Musani, an immigration attorney in West Hartford, said legal immigrants in Connecticut, especially Muslims, are concerned their family members overseas won’t get visas so they can visit.
“Things are really not bright for immigrants,” he said
Musani also said the State Department, which has authority over tourist visas and other types of visitor visas, including those for foreigners attending professional conferences in the United States, may be told to give special scrutiny to applicants, especially those from Muslim countries.
Like the revocation of Obama’s executive orders, Trump could change policy at the State Department without congressional approval.
“People are kind of panicking,” Musani said. “It’s been crazy.”
Trump’s immigration policies are said to have boosted the turnout of Hispanic voters, a growing segment of the electorate in Connecticut and the nation.
Their clout was felt in places like Nevada, which saw the election of the first Latina senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, and two new Hispanic members of the U.S. House.
According to NBC News exit polls, when asked about unauthorized immigrants, 78 percent of Hispanic voters said they should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, compared with 67 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
While you cannot tell the racial or ethnic makeup of those who went to the polls from turnout numbers, most towns with substantial Hispanic populations in Connecticut experienced an increase in the proportion of voters turning out, with the notable exception of Hartford. The most striking example was Windham, which is more than one third Hispanic and where turnout rose from 56.9% to 84%. Turnout was generally good in Connecticut, however, with the participation rate for both Democratic and Republican voters showing gains over those in 2012.
The Latino vote is likely to have helped Clinton win Connecticut. Clinton won 65 percent of Latino voters nationwide on Tuesday, according to National Election Pool exit poll data, a level of Democratic support similar to that in 2008, when 67 percent of Hispanics backed Obama. However, Clinton’s share of the Latino vote was lower than Obama’s in 2012, when 71 percent of Latinos voted to re-elect the president.
While Trump can make significant changes in immigration policy under his authority as president, other proposals will need congressional approval.
Those include stripping federal funds from “sanctuary cities” like New Haven and Hartford, where police or other officials do not ask about a person’s immigration status, or don’t report all detained undocumented immigrants.
Trump’s biggest proposal, building a massive wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, would also need congressional approval. Trump said he’d finance the wall by withholding $24 billion in remittances to Mexico, money that is sent to family members by illegal immigrants, but those are some of the same people he wants to deport and remittances also come from legal immigrants.
It’s probable Congress would have to appropriate money for the wall, and that would be difficult in a time of austerity in the federal budget.
His plans for massive deportations also would need a large congressional appropriation.
Connecticut’s federal lawmakers are likely to be pulled into the immigration debate.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, said she and her staffers have heard from worried immigrants since the results of the presidential election were announced.
“I have someone on my team who is in charge of outreach to the Hispanics in the community, and she’s been hearing from a lot of people,” she said.
Senior Data Editor Andrew Tran contributed to this story.