Trump victory sparks concern for Stamford minorities
STAMFORD — Just hours after Donald Trump was declared president in a shocking upset, immigration attorney Philip Berns awoke to a panicked email.
It was from a client, a 16-year-old Colombian native who had hoped to avoid deportation through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an immigration policy enacted in 2012 by President Barack Obama.
The policy benefits undocumented immigrants like Berns’ client who arrived in the United States before 2007 as children.
But with Trump assuming the presidency after an unprecedentedly bitter election cycle, his immigration status is cause for concern. In his campaign for the Oval Office, Trump vowed to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“Here’s this poor kid saying, ‘what’s going to happen to me now?’ ” said Berns, who has an office on Bedford Street. “I had a lot of people calling me very paranoid before he got elected asking, ‘Should I leave the country? Are they going to come in brown shirts and black jackboots and pick me up at my house?’ ”
Now that Trump has defied predictions he would lose to Hillary Clinton, groups that were maligned by the president-elect on the campaign trail are worried for their futures.
Especially undocumented immigrants living in the state’s second largest city — home to thousands of Central and South American immigrants.
“People are just coming in with really long faces, teary-eyed, asking what’s going to happen,” said Catalina Horak, executive director of Neighbor’s Link, a Stamford organization that provides resources to immigrants.
Families are scared, she said.
“This is a very real issue in this community,” she said. “It doesn’t get more real than this.”
After Trump’s win, Horak said her first email was to schools superintendent Earl Kim. She also called Mayor David Martin’s office and the Stamford Police Department.
“Our message is that more than ever as a community we need to come together and exhibit compassion and treat each other with respect,” Horak said.
‘Nightmares have come true’
Berns said concern about Trump surfaced well before he was elected.
“Earlier this week I met with a woman, an undocumented immigrant who was injured in an accident, who said, ‘You have to settle my case immediately because if Trump is elected I’m going to get deported,’ ” Berns recalled.
“You had all these people who were worried before he won,” he said. “Now their nightmares have come true.”
Berns is not only “flabbergasted” by Trump’s ascension, he said, but also by the misinformation about the nation’s undocumented population, like believing they have “anchor babies” to become citizens and are able to receive welfare.
“Show me an immigrant on welfare and I’ll show you a criminal case that hasn’t been brought yet,” he said.
“I think the Republican party has been fanning the flames and spreading these urban legends and it’s gotten people really riled up, and now that Trump is a success, is he not going to deliver on it?”
Pilar Palaez, chairwoman of the Mayor’s Multicultural Council, said it’s too soon to know how Trump’s victory will affect immigrants, but she suspects their fears are overblown.
“I think we have to wait and see because the president can’t just do anything he wants,” she said. “He has to take into perspective different communities and people from different countries who are here.”
Nevertheless, the biggest concern among immigrants now is family separation, she said.
“There are a lot of people who were born here and they don’t know their parent countries and they’re afraid they’ll be separated,” Palaez said. “They’re afraid they’re not going to get their status, they hear all these things about the wall and they’re really afraid.”
That post-election fear has spread to the family of Stephanie Montaleza, a 20-year-old from Norwalk who attends UConn-Stamford.
“My little sister walked up to my mom and said, ‘I don’t want my friends to get deported.’ That’s what she took away from all of this,” Montaleza said.
Montaleza also has undocumented family members who she said have not started panicking, but are angry with the rest of the country for not understanding what is at stake.
“It seems like the rest of the country didn’t care that we could be in trouble,” she said. “I feel especially like the older generation doomed our future and doomed our families’ futures.”
‘Elected a bigot’
Latino immigrants are far from the only group fearing Trump.
“I would say that Muslims who live in Connecticut are gravely concerned about the upcoming Trump presidency,” said Farhan Memon, chairman for the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
Last year, Memon and others tried to persuade the condo board at Trump Parc Stamford to remove Trump’s name from the city’s tallest building.
“America has elected a bigot and it’s up to civil rights organizations like ours to be vigilant and to work with our allies in combatting racism and xenophobia, as well as using our resources to push back against any unlawful or unconstitutional measures that Mr. Trump may want to institute,” he said.
Farhan said that while he’s fortunate to live in a state that didn’t support Trump, his 8-year-old son was still reluctant to go to school Wednesday.
“You could chalk it up to him being tired,” he said, “but I think it had more to do with him just wanting to stay in a safe place for a day. I would hate to think that there are other children in other families who feel that they are in an unfamiliar and unsafe place in our world because we’ve elected Mr. Trump.”
Conor Pfeifer, operations director at the Triangle Community Center in Norwalk, said the LGBT community is still unpacking what a Trump presidency means for equality.
“We have seen a lot of stress and anxiety, and people are questioning whether they’ll have a safe space to be and whether their president-elect will respect them as human beings,” Pfeifer said.
He noted that Vice President-elect Mike Pence has a record of supporting anti-LGBT legislation.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” he said. “Our rights have never come from a president. They’ve never come from one election or another. They’ve come from the tireless work of advocates across the country. We’re a safe space for everyone and that remains unchanged.”
Staff writer Nora Naughton contributed reporting.