Activists And Illegal Immigrants Band Together For A Feb. 3 Rally To Protest The Way That Migrants Are Targeted And Harassed By Law Enforcement
February 1, 2007
By ADAM BULGER, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
According to a study by the Pew Hispanic center, as of 2006 there were between 70,000 and 100,000 unauthorized migrants living in Connecticut. Activists throughout the state say that those illegal immigrants are being increasingly targeted by federal and state police.
Recent Connecticut events appear to bear out that accusation. On Thursday, Jan. 24, 42-year-old Tereza Pereira was arrested by federal immigration agents on a deportation warrant in her home in Danbury. Born in Brazil, she owns a home, works two jobs and has reportedly been working to get her U.S. citizenship for almost a decade.
While immigrant raids occur statewide, Danbury has been a particular hotspot. Last September, 11 undocumented workers were arrested in a sting operation. They were picked up by law enforcement officials posing as building contractors, then processed by federal police and detained to Texas. Nine were released on bail, and the others are reportedly being deported to Ecuador.
The experience of the group, nicknamed the Danbury 11, is becoming more and more common across the country, immigrant rights supporters say.
“They have been carrying out a coordinated campaign to terrorize the immigrant communities from California to Connecticut,” said Jason McGahan of Connecticut Regional Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
On Feb. 3, at 7:30 p.m. Saint Augustine’s church in Hartford hosts Stop the Raids forum. The event, organized by the CT Regional Coalition for Immigrant Rights, features presentations from attorneys, immigrants and others.
“It’s not only about the Danbury 11. It’s about the raids that are happening nationally. We want to bring awareness about these things to everybody in the community, not just in Danbury, but everywhere,” said Marela Zacarias, an organizer of the event and a member of Latinos Against the War.
The organizers of the event intend for both immigrants and non immigrants to attend.
“The reality is that this happens all around us,” said St. Augustine’s pastor Father Thomas Mitchell. Mitchell said the parish has consistently supported immigrant rights, and agreed to host the forum without hesitation.
The September sting and Pereira’s arrest were conducted by the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration policing branch, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Founded in 2003, ICE has netted thousands of immigrants during home and workplace raids conducted in California, North Carolina and other states during January 2007. Immigrant rights supporters decry their tactics.
“When ICE arrests an immigrant, they essentially go by the same procedure that would be called ‘disappearing someone’ in Latin America,” McGahan said. “They grab them very suddenly, take them to a location that they do not disclose to the family. [They] have been known to transfer the detainees to locations far removed from the arrest location.”
Deportation arrests have escalated in recent years to little notice, immigrant rights supporters say.
“A lot of this is done on a regular basis, but it’s not publicized because people are in such fear … and have just gotten used to having things just happen,” said Zacarias.
Yale law student Simon Moshenberg is representing nine of the men in a lawsuit with the Department of Homeland Security. Working with other Yale students through the Jerome Frank Legal Services Organization, Moshenberg hopes to prove that the original arrest was conducted illegally.
“Among the many arguments we’re going to make is that the arrest itself was carried out in an illegal manner, and therefore, as is standard practice, if the arrest is illegal, all the evidence gained as a result of that arrest has to be thrown out and can’t be used in a legal proceeding,” Moshenberg said.
Moshenberg and his fellow Yale students are defending the men pro bono; many immigrants going through deportation hearings do so without legal council.
“Interestingly enough, and I think horrifyingly enough, the Supreme Court has decided there is no right to government-funded legal council in deportation hearings. You can’t get sent to jail for one night without the right to a government-paid lawyer, but you can get deported from this country without any representation at all,” Moshenberg said.
Living in the United States as an illegal entails a certain amount of isolation, event organizers say. With increased federal scrutiny and the looming threat of deportation constantly present, it’s understandable why undocumented workers would want to live underground. Unfortunately, that creates a challenge for people who want to help to reach out to them. The disconnection makes it difficult for aliens to go through legal procedures.
“There’s only so much we can be aware of because of the lifestyle of these immigrant workers themselves and the amount of isolation they feel,” noted McGahan.
Hartford resident and Mexican native Eric Sarmiento, who was arrested three months ago while driving to work in Winsted, demonstrates how being plugged into a community can aid legal battles.
Sarmiento was nominally pulled over for a missing license plate on the front of his car. He was detained for nine days, first in Winsted, then in Hartford.
“You can make phone calls … I told them I couldn’t call my friends because they are like me, no papers,” Sarmiento said in an interview.
His bail was set at $20,000, which his relatives and friends were able to raise.
“I was lucky … There are people there who stay in jail for months,” Sarmiento said.
His next hearing is May 23.
One organizer of Stop the Raids said that the way the state treats immigrants can ultimately affect how the state treats its citizens.
“The idea that this kind of treatment begins and ends with immigrants is a big mistake, I think, in people’s minds. This has a direct relationship with civil liberties and the need to protect civil liberties at home,” McGahan said. “This is an integration of police agencies at the federal, state and local levels. It poses a big threat as far as first amendments.”