April 3, 2007
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer
Lawyers for a group of day laborers facing deportation proceedings argued in federal immigration court Monday that their arrests were illegal and they were targeted because they are Hispanic.
Eleven day laborers were arrested in a September immigration sweep in Danbury by authorities posing as construction contractors. Nine of the men were greeted when they arrived for their hearings by more than 70 boisterous supporters demonstrating in front of the Abraham A. Ribicoff Federal Building in Hartford.
Charlie Fuentes, a Trinity College junior and one of many students at the demonstration, said the September raid prompted him to become an activist.
"I feel like I'm privileged [to be attending Trinity] and have an obligation to stand up for undocumented immigrants," he said.
Some of the men were held for more than a month in Boston or Texas jails before being released on bails ranging from $1,500 to $15,000, said Simon Moshenberg, who is part of a group of Yale Law School student helping defend the day laborers.
Two other men agreed to be deported after they were denied bail, he said.
The 11 men have been identified in media reports as Ecuadoreans, but their lawyers on Monday declined to comment on their nationality or immigration status.
Moshenberg said it was likely the officers who posed as contractors were Danbury police, who turned the men over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The defense team is still investigating the arrests and has filed several federal and state Freedom of Information cases to get documents concerning the raid.
Defense attorneys said they may subpoena Danbury police officers, including the chief, and immigration officials to determine how the sweep was handled.
Moshenberg said in court that local police do not have the authority to make immigration arrests and the raid was "motivated by race."
Government attorney Leigh Mapplebeck said it was logical for immigration officials to target people congregating in a location where undocumented immigrants are known to wait for work. The men were at Kennedy Park in Danbury, which has long attracted day laborers.
"It doesn't matter what color they are," Mapplebeck said. "They could have been Ukrainian and as white as you and I and [immigration] still would have focused on them."
Immigration Judge Michael W. Straus ordered both sides to submit their arguments in legal briefs and return to court Sept. 17.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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