Immigrant-run businesses across the country closed Thursday in protest of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
In Bridgeport, opponents of closed borders and deportation say it’s especially important to send a message because Mayor Joe Ganim hasn’t declared Bridgeport a sanctuary city – a designation embraced by cities across the country, including Hartford and New Haven. Local police in sanctuary cities don’t work with federal authorities to detain immigrants and refugees.
Manuel Olivares owns a Brazilian restaurant called Pantanal. It’s one of several restaurants that closed Thursday. Olivares says when he told his regulars Pantanal would close for a day in protest, they understood.
“If the mayor would come out and support us and say, 'Bridgeport is a sanctuary city,' the immigrant community wouldn’t make this a big issue, you know, we all want to work. We all want the City of Bridgeport to continue its economic recovery.”
In the downtown part of the city, a few hundred people came out to demonstrate, including Mario Varela, who’s from Cape Verde but has lived in Bridgeport for 16 years.
“It’s important for us to get united, to send a message to the government, to show them that we’re here to work. We’re here to better ourselves and the lives of our kids.”
Varela says President Donald Trump comes from a family of immigrants. “His parents came from somewhere, and he built his life here. So why not give a chance to other people for their kids to build their life the way he did it?”
Evelin Delcid, another marcher, is a longtime resident of Bridgeport and a ‘dreamer,’ the term used for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Delcid’s parents immigrated from Guatemala over 20 years ago.
“America, it’s made of us – immigrants. And he has to understand that we are human people that came here to make a better future for our kids, our families. We’re not rapists, we’re not all of the things that he’s been telling us since his campaign.”
President Trump has threatened to cut federal funding for sanctuary cities. Mayor Joe Ganim hasn’t declared Bridgeport a sanctuary city, although the city council is considering an ordinance to adopt the term anyway.
Council member Jose Casco put that resolution on the table. “What we’re looking for is something in writing, something stating Bridgeport is a sanctuary city, and we welcome immigrants and refugees to the city. Not to be deported, not to have raids in our community, not continuing destroying and breaking our families apart.”
To be clear, that doesn’t mean anyone is expecting raids or deportations in Bridgeport right now. But Manuel Olivares says some of the regulars at his restaurant are scared.
“If the mayor doesn’t support us, people will be living in the shadows. People will be afraid to call the police if they need something. People are going to go to their jobs being afraid driving down the street and a police stops them, they’re going to be deported.”
Olivares says he hopes Ganim doesn’t see the protests as an attack on his policies. He says he wishes the mayor would be more forthcoming in his support for the immigrant community in the city.
Ganim, who met with Trump in the 1990s on some development projects for Bridgeport, 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.”