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Undocumented In Bridgeport Push For Sanctuary City Label

Davis Dunavin
Aracelis Hidalgo, center, with her family at their home in Bridgeport, Conn.

Bridgeport, Connecticut, doesn’t call itself a sanctuary city. That sets Connecticut’s largest city apart from others in the Northeast, like New York, Boston or New Haven. It’s also created anxiety for some undocumented Bridgeport residents.

Aracelis Hidalgo moved to Bridgeport more than 10 years ago. She and her husband are both undocumented. She’s an activist and part of a local immigrant rights group.

“We can’t be afraid. We are here and we are not going anywhere.”

Hidalgo and her husband live with their four kids in a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Bridgeport. She worries every time her husband leaves for work. What if federal immigration agents demand to see his papers? Their family could be torn apart.

“And it’s not just us but the entire community is going through the same thing. Everyone is very worried. Because they don’t know if much later they will come for their husbands, their family, their cousins, their uncles."

A lot of cities across the country have adopted the term ‘sanctuary city,’ including New York and Boston. Sanctuary cities don’t work with federal immigration agents to conduct raids or deportations. But what that actually means in practice is fuzzy and hard to define. Hidalgo says for her, just having the name would bring relief.

“If Bridgeport becomes a sanctuary city, well then our community will feel more secure, more protected. And they will understand that we’re not alone, that they’re supporting us.”

More than one in four Bridgeport residents were born in another country. Mayor Joe Ganim’s grandfather was a Syrian immigrant. Police chief A.J. Perez was born in Cuba. Ganim has said the city won’t seek to deport any residents, but he doesn’t like the term sanctuary city.

“I don’t like the way it’s become divisive. What I do like, a clear message – this is a hospitable city. It is a city of immigrants.”

Ganim’s critics say he doesn’t want to risk losing access to federal funds – that’s a threat Trump has levied against sanctuary cities. Bridgeport got about $45 million from the federal government in the fiscal year 2016. Ganim has said he wants to work with the president, not against him.

“You know, as mayor, we’re real practical. We don’t have the luxury of getting into a lot of things that don’t produce a positive result or protect our citizens.”

There’s a resolution on the table that would allow the city council to adopt the sanctuary city designation. Aracelis Hidalgo was one of about two dozen protesters at a city council meeting earlier this month when the sanctuary city vote was delayed. She says she’s going to keep fighting because the designation would mean peace of mind – regardless of whether it actually changes policy.

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