New Haven Kids And Their Moms Talk About Donald Trump's Immigration Order

Feb 13, 2017

Hundreds of undocumented immigrants have been rounded up during raids in major cities across the country in the past week. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported more than 680 people were arrested nationwide, including 41 in New York City. ICE called the actions part of "routine, daily targeted operations."

On Sunday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted: "The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!"

But the president's executive order on immigration has many kids and families in Connecticut worried.

The directive broadens the criteria for deportation of unauthorized immigrants – and some children are afraid their families may be broken up, or their friends, deported.

In a New Haven home, kids and moms met to speak about Trump's immigration policy.

"At home, we’re all calm, 'cause we know that New Haven is a safe place, and we’re safe here. So I’m not really scared of [President Donald Trump]," said Ambar Santiago Rojas.
Credit Diane Orson / WNPR

The bedroom of Ambar Santiago Rojas, 9, was a joyful, cluttered mess – books, toys and clothes were scattered everywhere.

She scrambled to the top of her bunkbed, and tossed an inflatable globe beach ball to her friends. But as the conversation turned to President Donald Trump, Ambar’s mood shifted.

"At home, we’re all calm, 'cause we know that New Haven is a safe place, and we’re safe here. So I’m not really scared of him," she said. "When he got elected, not that many kids went to school, because their parents were worried that ICE would come and take their child and deport them."

These children attend Christopher Columbus Family Academy, a dual-language public school in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Fair Haven.

"One week they will have Spanish, and the other one will have English," said Fatima Rojas, Ambar's mother. "I like the environment in Columbus. It's an environment [where] kids that are immigrants can come together from different countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, a few Africans, a lot of Puerto Ricans. So it’s a nice mix."

It's a mix that includes a number of families of unauthorized immigrants. Rojas and the school’s PTO have been working to calm fears that there could be a repeat of the 2007 raids in New Haven by ICE officials.

Early morning on June 6, 2007, ICE agents swept into Fair Haven, entering homes without warrants or consent, arresting people in showers, couples asleep in their beds, and in some cases, arresting people in front of their young children.

In 2012, 11 men caught up in the raids reached a landmark settlement in a civil rights lawsuit against ICE, resulting in one of the largest monetary settlements ever paid out by the U.S. over immigration raids.

Now New Haven’s school district is training staff on how to respond if federal agents show up at the door.

They’re updating emergency contact information for all students, said Rojas.

"The other thing that we’ve been speaking to the school is about the rumors," she said. "Parents are totally worried about that. Like if there is a little rumor, they will start calling people. They will start getting very nervous."

Sarah Miller said her kindergarten-age son is still too young to really understand what he calls "all this immigration stuff."

"In this country, really everyone is either a brother or sister of an immigrant, or an immigrant," said Pablo Cruz.
Credit Diane Orson / WNPR

"But we’ve just tried to explain in a very straightforward way that some people have problems in the countries where they live, different kinds of problems," said Miller. "They come to the United States. Sometimes they come through official channels. Sometimes they come via other channels. And as long as they want to be a part of our community and help make our community better, we welcome them. And there’s people all over that spectrum in our neighborhood, in your school, and that’s just the world we live in."

But her son, Pablo Cruz, 5, does appear to have come up with an analysis of the situation.  

"In this country, really everyone is either a brother or sister of an immigrant, or an immigrant," Pablo said. "Because when Christopher Columbus came to America, he was an immigrant -- so really, all of us are immigrants, or brothers and sisters of immigrants. So why is Donald Trump saying that immigrants should go? That means that all of us should go, you know?"

"I think that it’s not very good that he’s been elected," Sam Heenan said about Trump.
Credit Diane Orson / WNPR

"I think that it’s not very good that he’s been elected, and a lot of people don’t like him. Some people do," said Sam Heenan, 9. "And a lot of people have very different ideas about him."

That includes children, said Ambar Rojas.

"Kids talk about him -- like, that they’re so worried, or that they might not come back, and they might move," she said. "It's just all messed up, because they used to be so happy and stuff, but now they’re kind of, like, sad and worried."

According to estimates by the Pew Research Center, there were about 30,000 unauthorized immigrants in the New Haven/Milford region in 2014.

Despite tens of thousands of dollars at risk should Trump act on threats to withhold federal funds for "sanctuary cities," Mayor Toni Harp has vowed to uphold New Haven’s protections of its undocumented residents.

And talks are currently underway in the city among members of a recently-formed Sanctuary Working Group to further expand those protections.