Immigrants Brings New Battles
Battle Brews Between Old, New
May 24, 2005
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer
From the state legislature to city halls to the streets, battle
lines are being drawn on immigration in Connecticut in a way
that was once confined to border states.
As the number of immigrants in the state has surged in recent
years, issues such as education, jobs, housing and security have
received increased attention, and cultural clashes between long-time
residents and recent arrivals have become more frequent.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton threw a match into the tinder of
the emotionally charged issue last month by calling for state
police to enforce federal immigration law.
Since then, immigration activists as well as those who want
tighter controls have organized new groups to mobilize their
forces. Tonight they will face off in West Hartford.
The recently formed Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control
held its first meeting in Danbury three days after Boughton asked
state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to negotiate an agreement
to allow state police to enforce immigration law.
Leaders of the group have testified before the legislature this
year on immigration-related issues and, not long after the Danbury
meeting, announced they would meet at 6:30 tonight at the Elmwood
Community Center in West Hartford.
Darien resident Paul Streitz, one of the group's founders, said
Connecticut is ripe for the positions his group is pushing. He
said undocumented immigrants are taking more and more jobs in
the state, particularly from low-income workers.
The group also says tighter immigration controls are needed
as the country adjusts to the realities of a post 9/11 world.
"It's a problem that has to be fixed," Streitz said. "You
can't have a country that doesn't have borders and you don't
control who comes in."
In late April, Streitz participated in the controversial Minutemen
Project, which sent volunteers to the Arizona-Mexico border to
discourage illegal immigration. Some people accused the Minutemen
of being vigilantes, an accusation that also has been leveled
at Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control.
Soon after the group announced it would come to West Hartford,
more than a dozen organizations, including unions, religious
groups and immigration advocates, formed the Ad Hoc Committee
for Immigrant Rights.
The group will hold a demonstration tonight, meeting at Shields
Plaza on New Britain Avenue at 5:30, then marching to the Elmwood
Community Center to picket the meeting.
"We felt the need, as people who live in the area and are
strong supporters of immigration rights, to go there and let
them know," said West Hartford resident Peter Goselin, of
the state chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
Both sides have vowed tonight's meeting and demonstration will
be peaceful. West Hartford Police Chief James Strillacci said
his department would monitor tonight's events, but declined to
discuss specific plans.
Streitz, who says he has no "great animosity" toward
undocumented immigrants, dismisses allegations that his organization
is a right-wing group or supports vigilantism.
"The other side slanders us and says we're vigilantes,
we're this, we're that," he said. "But that's just
slander. They don't want to deal with the problems."
He said his group, which now has a mailing list of about 100
people, simply wants to recruit members to help write letters
to officials and lobby the legislature for stricter immigration
laws. He said he does not advocate large-scale arrests and deportation
of undocumented immigrants.
Streitz pointed to the recent defeat in the state legislature
of a bill that would have granted in-state tuition rates at public
colleges to some undocumented immigrants as an example of the
political battles his group will fight.
Two other founders, Paul Breitzke and Mary Long, testified against
the bill, which was defeated 77-65 in the House of Representatives.
Despite its defeat, some immigration advocates said they were
pleased that three legislative committees approved the proposal.
Werner Oyanadel, legislative analyst for the state Latino and
Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said the bill will be reintroduced
next session and is emblematic of the state coming to terms with
"People were voting in fear," he said. "Fear of
repercussions in their districts, fear of not understanding immigration
law and fear of passing a law that would aid terrorism."
Boughton's request is still
being reviewed by the state. Blumenthal has said he has "serious reservations" about
it because it could discourage immigrants from cooperating
with state police on criminal investigations.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell has asked Public Safety Commissioner Leonard
Boyle to evaluate the request. State police spokesman Sgt. J.
Paul Vance said Boyle recently met with representatives from
the U.S. attorney's office and immigration and custom's enforcement,
but no final decisions have been made.
According to the most recent information from the U.S. Census
Bureau, from 2000 to 2004, Connecticut's foreign-born population
grew by about 63,800. In 2003, Connecticut ranked 11th among
the states in percentage of its population that was foreign-born,
the Census Bureau said.
Streitz said the group chose West Hartford because it was close
to the capitol and more likely to attract media attention.
Regardless of Streitz's contention
that his organization is mainstream, Goselin sees a more ominous
hue to it. He said the group wants to "place all the blame for every conceivable
ill" on undocumented workers. He said Streitz's participation
in the Minutemen Project and strident writing on websites belie
his claims to mainstream status.
"When they talk about the nature of this society changing,
what they're really talking about is they don't want to see black
and brown and yellow faces around," Goselin said.
The increasing friction over immigration is one of the reasons
the new immigrants rights coalition came together so quickly,
he said. Another group in the coalition, Latinos Against the
War, has been passing out leaflets on the counter demonstration
during the past week in Hartford's Asylum Hill and Frog Hollow
Micaela Cadena, a member of the group, said immigrants are increasingly
frustrated by the restrictions they face.
Streitz said his group would continue to hold meetings across
the state to provide information to those concerned about immigration.
In the short term, members of the Ad Hoc Committee for Immigrants
Rights said they would start organizing a June 12 march in Danbury
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at