May 25, 2005
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer
WEST HARTFORD -- Mary Long looked relieved when she finally
pulled the plug on Tuesday night's meeting of Connecticut Citizens
for Immigration Control, short-circuiting the rising tension
in the room.
More than 150 immigration activists had picketed the meeting,
marching up and down the sidewalk in front of the Elmwood Community
Center. They outnumbered those inside by three to one.
When the demonstration ended and some of the protesters slowly
filtered into the meeting, the two sides came face to face
over the emotional issue of immigration.
The confrontation would have been unlikely several years ago,
before the steady influx of immigrants to the state had received
But Connecticut is experiencing the same polarization seen
in other states that have long been centers of immigration.
It was only the second public meeting for Connecticut Citizens
for Immigration Control, which wants to see stricter immigration
Frustrated by the opposition the group faced Tuesday, Long
said she is not sure a third public meeting is worthwhile.
Long told about 45 people who showed up for the meeting that
she started paying attention to immigration after she learned
that some of those involved in the terrorist attacks of Sept.
11 had been issued visas and driver's licenses.
"I assumed someone was going to fix those things real
quick so it wouldn't happen again," she said.
When that didn't happen, she decided to get involved. She
met the other founders of the group when she went to the state
legislature to support more restriction on issuing driver's
licenses and to oppose a proposal to grant in-state college
tuition to some undocumented immigrants.
For Paul Streitz, one of the people Long met, controlling
immigration is about protecting jobs, which he said are being
taken by undocumented immigrants willing to work for low wages.
"Mexico is actively exporting its poor," said
That kind of comment drew groans from the demonstrators who
had slowly filled the empty chairs in the community center's
When the group announced several weeks ago it planned to come
to West Hartford - after its first meeting in Danbury attracted
about 150 people - local activists formed the Ad Hoc Committee
for Immigrants Rights.
That group gathered at Shields Plaza on New Britain Avenue
early Tuesday night and marched several blocks to the community
"The message that we're trying to send is that this country
was built on the sweat equity of all the immigrants who came
here," said the Rev. Persida Rivera Mendez of the New
Hope Hispanic Christian Church in East Hartford.
"The immigrants today
want the same rights and opportunities other immigrants had
in the past."
As marchers paced the sidewalk in front of the community center,
a 20-year-old who gave only his first name, Fernando, joined
in the chants. Through an interpreter, he said he was from
Mexico City and had been in the United States for two years.
One of the things he liked
about the United States, he said, was that he could "have
a voice, be heard."
One of the things he did
not like was that the large construction company he had worked
for in Connecticut paid him $10 an hour, while paying other
workers $30 an hourHe said he was fired when he
complained about it.
Hoping to avoid confrontations, organizers of the demonstration
had encouraged people not to enter the meeting. West Hartford
police did not stop people from entering the community center,
but asked those who had signs to leave them outside.
An hour after the meeting started at 6:30 p.m., demonstrators
almost outnumbered those who were there at the beginning.
Long opened the meeting to questions at about 8 p.m. as eight
West Hartford police officers positioned themselves around
the perimeter of the auditorium. It didn't take long for the
question-and-answer period to descend into a shouting match.
"This has been a very lively discussion," she said. "Thank
you all for coming."
Long said the group had considered holding another meeting
in Waterbury next month.
But as people filed out
of the room Tuesday, she said a "boring,
old fashioned" organizing meeting for members only might
better serve the group.
"We really need to decide if this kind of meeting serves
a purpose," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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