Dozens arrested at Hartford immigration protest

HARTFORD — Hundreds of peaceful protesters shouted “shame shame” as Hartford police arrested dozens of advocates blocking the entrance to the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Monday.

The protesters — in solidarity with rallies nationwide seeking the abolishment of ICE — filled the plaza outside the federal building, which also is the site of the Immigration Court, chanting as their numbers grew over more than two hours with representatives from throughout the state and beyond.

“We don’t need ICE to be reformed. We need it gone. We don’t need ‘family friendly’ cages. We need to abolish cages and recognize the dignity and humanity of every migrant,” said Carolina Bortolleto of Danbury, the leader of CT Students for a Dream.

Megan Fountain of Unidad Latina en Accion said 33 people were charged with breach of peace and trespassing. They were released around 1 p.m. and have various court dates, starting on Wednesday until July 23.

Among those picked up were Vanessa Suarez of ULA, a New Haven organization that has been active in labor and immigrant issues for the past 16 years.

Before the rally started, Suarez said it was important to do more to change immigration policy than simply state you disagree with it. She said the system needs to be drastically revised and ICE ended.

“We will never be able to heal,” she said as the trauma of separated families here and at the border will effect future generations, in addition to those immediately impacted.

The groups that had organized the rally said they were in solidarity with those who oppose creation of a camp to hold some 47,000 detainees under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Many Democrats, perhaps most, don’t support the effort to abolish ICE, as they recognize the agency performs a critical role. Some have compared the protests to Republican moves to abolish the IRS. But Democrats are united in their criticism of ICE tactics, most prominently the separation of families at the border.

Still, the call to eliminate ICE was heard around the country.

Early Saturday morning, before protests officially started that day, President Trump tweeted from his golf club in New Jersey, as reported by NPR: “To the great and brave men and women of ICE, do not worry or lose your spirit. You are doing a fantastic job of keeping us safe by eradicating the worst criminal elements. So brave!”

He added later in the day, “When people come into our Country illegally, we must IMMEDIATELY escort them back out without going through years of legal maneuvering. Our laws are the dumbest anywhere in the world.”

Last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued to support the zero tolerance policy. “As the president often says, a country without borders is not a country. I don’t know why that’s so hard for some people to understand,” Sessions said, as reported by Politico.

Zero tolerance treats illegal entry as a criminal action, rather than as a civil offense.

Some 2,000 children have been separated from their families and the administration is looking for a way to reunite them after a court order last Tuesday gave it 30 days to accomplish this, but only two weeks for children younger than 5, according to CBS News.

There were multiple lines of protesters in front of the ICE office entrance in Hartford, but many moved away when the arrests got under way, rejoining the crowd and ringing the plaza.

Among those arrested were the Rev. Gini King and Charla Nich, both active members of Connecticut Shoreline Indivisable, who have been present at multiple rallies over the last two years. Elias Estabook, a member of New Haven’s City Plan Commission and Paul Wessel, the former head of traffic and parking in New Haven, also got arrested.

Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, a labor organizer with SEIU, and a Democratic contender for lieutenant governor, was at the rally. No politicians were allowed to speak unless they backed the elimination of ICE.

Zimmerman was asked by Hearst Connecticut Media why she was there.

The candidate said she wanted to show support for immigrants who come here and help support our economy, paying taxes, with many raising U.S. citizen children.

Jesus Morales Sanchez of ULA said they hesitate to call themselves immigrants as many of their members are indigenous to the Southwest when it was part of Mexico.

“A lot of our ancestors roamed this continent for thousands of years. We didn’t cross a border, the border crossed us. Right now these borders are in play. Not only are our rights as humans, our rights as people, our humanity is being erased, it is profited off,” Morales said.

He held up a banner with the names of corporations that he said profit from immigration enforcement. The Geo Group, which has an office a block away from the courthouse on Main Street, provides ankle bracelets for immigrants awaiting a hearing in court. The Geo Group is mainly known for running private prisons.

Morales said speakers would refer to policies that separate families or detain children and parents together as un-American.

“Unfortunately I beg to differ. This has been going on for a long time. We have allowed it to go on for a long time. ... We have to acknowledge that this is in our history. It is part of the culture of this country,” Morales said. “Right now we have a decision. We continue on this path or we change it,” Morales said.

Fountain called the rally a huge success.

“I think each of us are called to stop complying with the institutions that are fascist. We each have a responsibility to say we are not going to cooperate with institutions that are unlawful,” a category she said applies to ICE. “They don’t belong in our government,” Fountain said.

Unlike other rallies there were fewer speakers with most of the energy put into marching and chanting.

When the arrests began, they asked the police: “Who do you serve?”