February 27, 2006
By ROBIN STANSBURY, Courant Staff Writer
In the basement of a Hartford church
Sunday, a grass-roots effort was launched to improve the lives of
immigrants in the region as well as to fight against what organizers
termed an anti-immigrant movement gaining momentum across the nation.
The event was organized by the Greater
Hartford Interfaith Coalition For Equity and Justice, an organization
of about 40 churches from across the state.
The group hopes to hold an educational forum each month to raise
awareness about issues facing immigrants in Connecticut, including
job exploitation and access to health care.
Ana Maria Hernandez Alstrum, who helped
organize Sunday's event at the St. Augustine Catholic Church, said
things have gotten worse for immigrants in Connecticut and nationwide
since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"We need to work to diminish the
anti-immigrant feeling that is around. These people are not threatening
anyone. They are not felons," Alstrum said. "They are
hardworking people who are not taking jobs from anyone, but instead
are taking the jobs no one wants."
About 100 people attended the one-hour
educational forum, where speakers talked about the struggles facing
many immigrants in Connecticut, including the ability to get proper
Margarita Ledesma, a social worker,
said immigrants who have cancer or AIDS are not receiving medical
care because they are afraid they will be arrested if they show
up at a doctor's office.
But members of the group said it also
hopes to have an impact on immigration issues on a statewide and
national level, including fighting legislation they say is negative
As illegal immigrants have spread throughout
the country and Congress has been unable to pass an immigration
reform bill, some states have passed their own legislation to address
the issues. In the first six months of last year, states considered
nearly 300 immigration-related bills and passed 36 of them, according
to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Florida allowed state law officers
to arrest illegal immigrants. Arizona barred day laborer centers
from receiving public funds, and Virginia denied some state benefits
to undocumented workers.
This year, the proposals include cutting
off benefits to illegal immigrants, allowing local police to identify
those in the country illegally and, in Arizona, sending National
Guard troops to secure the Mexican border.
Alstrum said she hopes a different
type of legislation can be passed in Connecticut, one that will
protect the rights of immigrants. A recent study estimated that
there are about 395,000 immigrants in the state, giving Connecticut
the 18th-largest immigrant population in the country.
The group was supported Sunday by Hartford
Mayor Eddie Perez, who attended the event and said he would work
with the organization to pass resolutions supporting the rights
of residents regardless of immigration status.
"I want to join forces with this
coalition to make sure this anti-immigration movement doesn't gain
momentum," Perez told the crowd.
"Rather than being reactive, I
hope to be proactive on these issues."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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