Community members rallied outside Meriden City Hall on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 20 in support of Nelly Cumbicos, who faces deportation on Feb. 28.
“By speaking out you are changing the conversation around immigration reform,” said City Councilor Miguel Castro, as Cumbicos stood beside him. “I want [you] to know that Connecticut stands with you, we embrace you, and we will continue to help in any way we can.”
Many attending knew the rally would have little substantive impact on her case. Attendees instead described the gathering as both an act of solidarity with Cumbicos and a political message against an increasingly intense immigration regime.
“A lot of this is just symbolic, showing community support,” said Middletown resident Mike Thomas. “These are the cases that bubble to the top. There are so many—if you go to Hartford, there’s the real story.”
Cumbicos’ case has drawn political attention that few undocumented immigrants facing final orders of deportation receive. The rally attracted Senator Blumenthal (D-CT), who gave a short speech.
“We’re going to stand strong for people who through no fault of their own are caught up in the [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] machine that threatens to run them over or run them out without fairness or due process or any of the American values,” he said.
The rally came before a meeting where the Meriden City Council unanimously approved a bipartisan resolution asking the Department of Homeland Security to provide Cumbicos with a stay of deportation.
“Keep Nelly Home, Keep Nelly Home, Keep Nelly Home, Keep Nelly Home,” the crowd chanted, with signs bearing those same words.
Cumbicos left Ecuador for the United States in 2000 to join her family in Connecticut. According to her GoFundMe page, she was kidnapped while crossing the border but rescued by American police officers. She then moved to Connecticut where she married Ramon, a United States citizen and gave birth to her now-16-year-old son, Jim.
“I escaped from organized military and criminal violence that threatened my family, threatened me,” Cumbicos told the Meriden Record-Journal. “My father used to own a business and his business was burned.”
When Cumbicos applied for citizenship in 2015, authorities uncovered she had been given a deportation order in 2002 for failure to appear in court. The deportation date was for June of 2017. However, Cumbicos had not been aware of that court date, she says.
Cumbicos received a temporary stay of removal and a new deportation date of Feb. 16. On Feb. 9, the stay was extended for one year, alongside a public statement from Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (CT-05) supporting the decision. Cumbicos’ fortunes quickly flipped however, when the decision was overturned by the Department of Homeland Security four days later. She now faces a deportation date of Feb. 28, according to her GoFundMe page.
Many saw these protests as resistance to President Trump.
“The recent events in our country and what is happening to this woman made it more compelling,” said Kathy Lupack M.A. ’03. “It’s the fault of this president’s administration.”
For others, Cumbicos’ predicament was deeply personal.
“My partner and I recently navigated the complex and pretty nerve-wracking process of petitioning for her temporary green card—the same exact process that ensnared Nelly and her family. We emerged unscathed because of sheer luck, a kind of arbitrary grace,” wrote Talya Zemach-Bersin ’07 in an email to The Argus. “When you survive something but for the grace of god, it becomes really important to pay it forward.”
Cumbicos now hopes support from local government officials and the community will persuade officials to overturn their most recent decision, but she still faces the fast-approaching deadline of Feb. 28.
“It’s like a ticking clock,” her sister Flor Cumbicos told the Meriden Record-Journal.
Mason Mandell can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @MasonMandell.