BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — About 40 demonstrators rallied outside Bridgeport City Hall on Thursday afternoon, calling on city leaders to designate Bridgeport as a sanctuary city where immigrants and refugees can find safe haven.
City Council member José Casco told the group he intended to submit a resolution to the council as early as next week, noting several other cities around the state are designated as sanctuaries or have a resolution ready for a vote.
“Why Bridgeport cannot do that?” said Casco, who was born in Mexico. “Let’s get united and work together for our community.”
Julio López, state director of Make the Road, one of the rally’s organizers, said it’s believed that Bridgeport has the largest number of undocumented people in the state. He said his group is working with local schools and officials to help protect students and keep families together.
“It starts with the support of the mayor,” he said.
Mayor Joe Ganim was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, preparing to attend the presidential inauguration, demonstrators said. They hope to meet with him on Feb. 8 to discuss their concerns.
The group is asking that Bridgeport police and other authorities not have contact with federal agencies that would put undocumented people and refugees in jeopardy of losing their homes, jobs and ways of life.
“These are families who live here and work here,” said Barbara Lopez, another Make the Road organizer.
Rob Traber, an elementary school teacher in Bridgeport, said a sanctuary designation would go a long way toward helping immigrant and refugee children focus on their education.
“They deserve the opportunity to learn without fear,” he said. “How can our children — and their families — learn if they’re living in fear? Bridgeport must become a sanctuary city.”
Not everyone outside City Hall agreed with the proposal. Oxford resident Donald Boston Jr., who happened to be passing by shortly before the rally, said he believes the country should be looking out for its citizens.
“Americans need jobs. We need jobs,” he said. “If you’re not paying into the system, you should be deported. I think it’s a mistake for Bridgeport.
“It’s not a matter of race. It’s a matter of what’s right for America.”
New Haven has been a sanctuary city for many years, Casco said. Hartford submitted a resolution last week, and Willimantic and Danbury are also debating the issue, he said.
The rally came just days after a massive mobilization in the nation’s capital, calling for local policies to protect immigrants and refugees against racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric following the presidential election.
Many immigrant families are fearful that President-Elect Donald Trump’s policies will tear apart families and foster racial profiling and discrimination, López said.
“We’re here to send a message that we’re here to stay,” he said. “We’re not afraid.”