Before Daniel Morales leaves Meriden every morning to go to work at the factory he has worked at for 11 years, he prays that he’ll make it home.
“It’s a good job, but every time I get up for work, there’s a fear inside that you can get pulled over anytime,” Morales says.
And for Morales, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, that could mean being deported. He’s been lucky so far, but he knows some who have not been as fortunate. When his friend Ivan, another undocumented worker in Meriden, was pulled over and given a ticket for driving with no license and an expired registration, he had ICE agents waiting for him when he left the Meriden courthouse after paying the fines.
“He was just driving,” Morales says. “He didn’t have a DUI or anything. He’s a father. He has a wife. He’s been here for 18 years.”
Morales has his own family to look out for. He’s supporting not only his wife and kids, but his diabetic mother back in Mexico.
“My family depends on me,” he says. “My mom depends on me. If I go back to Mexico, I won’t be able to afford her medicine.”
These are the stakes that keep people like Morales under the radar, but today, he and immigration reform advocates from organizations in 11 Connecticut cities including Meriden, New Haven, New London, Bridgeport, Stamford, and New Britain, are coming out of the shadows to send a message as part of a protest being held in cities throughout the nation.
It’s around 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, and the parking lot of Saint Rose of Lima Church in Meriden-just one stop on a caravan route to Hartford for a mass demonstration-is starting to fill with cars. Spanish-language hip hop blasts from the speaker of one car as the activists meet and greet.
“Not one more deportation!” the crowd chants once everyone has gathered in a circle.
One activist, Alejandro Gonzalez, speaks through a megaphone.
“Different organizations have united to send a message to Barack Obama-that we’re not going to allow any more deportations of members of our community,” he says.
Since 2008, the Obama administration has deported almost 2 million undocumented immigrants.
And it’s no wonder why immigrants like Morales are treading lightly when one looks at who has been getting caught in the deportation net-two-thirds of them had either no criminal record or were detained for minor infractions such as traffic violations, according to a New York Times investigation.
“Every day that we go to work, we don’t know if we’re going to get back home,” Morales says. “We need to stop the deportations because there are a lot of kids who are lonely because their fathers are gone.”
Javier Morin, another protestor, just narrowly avoided becoming one of those fathers. When he took a plea deal two years ago for allegations of assaulting a police officer in East Haven-an accusation he denies to this day-he didn’t know that the resulting aggravated felony would mean anything more than two years’ probation.
But in January of this year ICE agents showed up at the Lexus dealership he works at in East Haven and brought him to a lock-up facility in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Because an aggravated felony warrants deportation under immigration law, he was on the verge of being sent back to Ecuador and leaving his wife, Bianca, and their five-year old son Alejandro behind.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done, if they sent me back to Ecuador,” Morin said during an interview at his home in East Haven. “I guess I could’ve found work, but it’s not the same because you don’t have your family with you. I never had a father, so I don’t want Alejandro to not have a father too.”
He was released from detention on March 12 and the deportation case was closed on April 1 when his conviction was reduced from an aggravated felony. Morin is in the clear, but he still thinks about those he met while he was locked up for two months.
There was a man from Mexico who was deported for driving without a license.
“He said his son is sick, and he’s the only one in the family working,” Morin said. “I don’t know how I can help the people out. They’ve got mothers, sisters, friends [here]. I don’t know why the judges don’t understand that.”
If Morin has any message he would send to Obama, it would be to spend some time where he just was.
“Tell him to go to the jail and see the pain on people’s faces,” he said. “See the men crying, the families broken.”