CT isn't yet experiencing immigration wave like neighboring Mass. and New York City, advocates say
Jose Ponte is a 54-year-old from Peru who lived in Venezuela for the last three decades. He gained Venezuelan citizenship and had a family there, but said political and economic upheaval made him want to move to the United States.
Unable to afford a U.S. visa, he said he risked his life three times attempting to cross the Darién Gap, which connects South and Central America, to come to the U.S.
Finally, he was allowed entry into the country.
"On that journey, everyone is on their own. It's like watching a traumatic movie because you see decomposing dead people,” Ponte said. "Through my journey, my shoes broke. I had to pick up a shoe that I saw thrown away."
Ponte’s story is similar to thousands of people who’ve recently immigrated to the U.S. This summer has been marked by an increase of immigration. Especially in neighboring New York City and Massachusetts, where shelters were at times unable to manage the influx of people.
In early August, New York City officials said almost 100,000 migrants had arrived in the city since last year. Mayor Eric Adams said that cost the city about $12 billion. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency over the rising numbers of arriving immigrants.
But is Connecticut experiencing the same rise in immigration?
While there has been an increase in the number of migrants relocating, several immigrant advocacy organizations in the state say there's still not enough people arriving to constitute what they would describe as a "wave." At least not yet.
Most immigrants are entering through the Stamford area, either alone or with relatives or friends in tow, said Anka Badurina, executive director of Building One Community in Stamford. But without work documentation, self-sufficiency is a challenge for these immigrants, Badurina said.
“We have not seen buses in Stamford or in Connecticut just yet. But what we do see is the effect of the folks that are bused to NYC," Badurina said. "The other ones potentially have gone to the tri-state area, and Fairfield County is one of those places.”
Meanwhile, Susan Schnitzer, president and CEO of Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants (CIRI), has yet to see an uptick of relocated immigrants in Connecticut. However, Schnitzer said her organization has seen an increase of immigrants requesting asylum status.
“We don't know if they are coming specifically from [New York] or not,” Schnitzer said. “I don't have specific numbers, but what I can tell you is that we are seeing a lot more folks coming and requesting assistance.”
Both CIRI and Building One Community said they are working with the state of Connecticut to develop a plan of action if a wave of relocated immigrants does arrive in the state. And they agreed that federal funding is necessary to make a plan work.
Brenda Bergeron, the deputy commissioner of the Connecticut State Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, has been meeting with immigrant advocacy organizations, state agencies and municipalities to ensure that a plan is put in place.
“What we are hearing is not busloads coming,” Bergeron said. “But individuals, and individual families who might have arrived to refugee organizations, looking for assistance."
“What they need is what most migrants do when they come to a foreign place," Badurina said. "They need to learn a new language, they need to find jobs, and that’s their main priority.”
Meanwhile, Jose Ponte is working as a day laborer ("jornalero" in Spanish), in Stamford, taking any job he can find — from landscaping to construction work — in order to make ends meet. Ponte is currently waiting to apply for asylum with his Venezuelan citizenship, but he is among thousands of immigrants in Connecticut who have come in search of a better life.
"I have always been a hard worker. I do not want to generate expenses for this country," Ponte said. " I want to be as productive, and legal to pay taxes, as anyone else."