On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a group often overlooked demanded to be heard: Bridgeport’s Spanish-speaking and immigrant parents.
Yesterday, about a dozen parents and students organized by Make The Road, an immigrants’ rights group, marched in front of Bassick High School — one of lowest performing high schools in the state — brandishing signs that read “education is a right” and “we won’t shut up.”
The rally comes after an announcement this week by district officials that Bridgeport Public Schools is in need of an additional $9 million to keep up with the costs of salary increases, higher health insurance costs and expected enrollment growth in the 2017-18 school year, according to the Connecticut Post.
“Here in Bridgeport we have identified education as one of those issues that is very important,” said Make The Road State Director Julio Lopez, who said that a group of local immigrant mothers formed their own education committee, largely taking the reigns of organizing. “the mom’s committee has been fighting for language access and less cuts in the budget.”
Bridgeport is arguably one of the most underfunded districts in the state, receiving nearly $5,000 less than Hartford and $2,000 less than New Haven.
In fact, the city was used as an example of underfunding during the CCJEF v. Rell school funding trial that ultimately resulted in Superior Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruling that the way the state doles out education funding is unconstitutional (though the state and plaintiffs are appealing his ruling).
The mothers on the education committee are no strangers to political action. In September, the education committee was among groups rallying outside of Geraldine Johnson school when the school board members were boycotting meetings.
“My experience in schools is specifically around language,” said Bridgeport parent Yaneli Vargas, who has two school-aged children. “when I have an issue with my son I can’t communicate with the teachers.”
Lopez said this is a common issue for the mothers who organized the education committee, making it more difficult for them to organize with more traditional parent groups.
“I want my children to have a much better education than they have,” said Vargas, who, like many of the other parents at the rally would like to see an end to budget cuts.
Parents want better education, but also to feel safe in their communities
In addition to the march, the group also presented city hall with a petition with around 400 signatures asking that Bridgeport’s city council make the Park City a “sanctuary city.”
“We know that trump is coming. We know that his rhetoric and his nominees are not necessarily immigrant friendly,” said Lopez. “Nationally we can do very little, but we know that locally, we can push local authorities to actually move changes that could help our community like stopping the flow of information between local authorities and federal authorities.”
In a nutshell, that’s what a “sanctuary city” is. It’s a municipality where the local authorities do not report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. In Connecticut, there are currently only two sanctuary cities, New Haven, which was the nation’s first, and Hartford. Make The Road wants Bridgeport to follow suit.
Currently, the city has plans to issue photo IDs to undocumented residents in order to give them greater access to municipal services, but the issue of disobeying federal requests is a bit sticker.
“In terms of not cooperating with federal law enforcement, we’re not ready to say that at this point,’’ said the mayor’s spokesman Av Harris to the Connecticut Post. “We have a very good working relationship with federal law enforcement on many fronts.”
The group has pledged that they will continue to fight.
“We want Bridgeport to issue residents photo ID cards, so that undocumented people can access some city services and programs, and go to the beach without fear of deportation,’’ said Make The Road organizer Luis G. Luna. “We want the city to order its police department not to share information with ICE agents.’’