June 15, 2007
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer
The 15 people who were led one by one through a Hartford federal courtroom Thursday were exactly where their families and friends feared they could end up: facing an immigration judge, shackled at the waist, hands and feet, accused of being in the country illegally.
Their journey to the small, windowless courtroom on the fifth floor of the Abraham A. Ribicoff Federal Building began early in the morning on June 6, when many of those apprehended were awakened by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents pounding on their doors in the New Haven area.
Thursday's deportation proceedings, which were continued until next week, were a subdued episode in a series of incendiary events that began June 4, when New Haven approved creating a municipal identification card available to all residents, including illegal immigrants.
The city's decision garnered national attention, which was heightened two days later when ICE swept into the Elm City and eventuallyarrested 32 alleged illegal immigrants. City officials decried the raids as retaliation for the ID card program, an accusation ICE denies, even as its agents have suspended fugitive search operations in Connecticut.
Simultaneously, a bipartisan immigration reform bill collapsed in the U.S. Senate.
The Senate has since revived efforts at passing the bill.
In New Haven, the days since the raids have been tense and filled with fear for many undocumented immigrants.
Children have stayed home from school. Curtains have been kept drawn, knocks at the door unanswered.
The night before last week's raids, a 14-year-old who asked to be identified only by his first name, Anthony, sat with his parents at an awards ceremony at his school, where he was honored for academic achievements.
The next time his family members were all together was at about 6:30 the next morning, sitting on the sofa in their small living room that was crowded with a dozen armed ICE agents and state police.
"They were looking at us like they hate us," he said.
Anthony, who had opened the door in response to the agents' pounding, watched as his father was led away in handcuffs, likely to be deported. Without him, Anthony and his mother, who are from Ecuador, exude a saddened resignation that they may lose the business he started, the car, their small condo, everything.
"We thought we'd finally made it, achieved our goal of living a good life, and then this happened," Anthony said.
Those arrested in the raids have been held in detention facilities in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Attorneys from the Yale Law School Legal Services Organization had hoped to win the release of the 15 people in court Thursday by getting their $15,000 bail reduced.
But they settled for continuing the cases until next week. Visiting Judge Gary Malphrus said he needed more proof that the accused would return to court if released on bail.
Although the bail reductions were the focus of the hearing, Michael Wishnie, a Yale professor and immigration law expert, touched on a host of issues already raised by New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and immigration activists.
He said the raids were retaliatory and that ICE violated its own rules by not notifying local police. Although ICE was looking for immigrants named in outstanding deportation orders, only four such people were arrested, he said.
Wishnie said attorneys will file motions to have the cases dismissed because agents entered homes without search warrants and some people arrested on the street were stopped based on their race or ethnicity.
Wishnie said the "extraordinary" support for those arrested within the community and the church many attended, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, plus their intention to fight the charges, justified lowering their bail so they could gain their freedom while the cases proceed.
There have been several rallies in New Haven since the raids. About 40 immigration activists protested outside the Ribicoff building Thursday and a much bigger rally is planned for Saturday in New Haven.
"We will litigate these cases fiercely," Wishnie said after the hearings.
Wishnie said an immigration judge in Boston had already reduced bail in two cases heard there, to $3,500 and $1,500.
He said after the hearings he was confident bail in the Hartford case will be reduced when the court's regular judge, Michael W. Straus, who was not available this week, returns to the bench.
Leigh Mapplebeck, assistant chief counsel for ICE, dismissed the defense arguments as "uncorroborated statements." She said a "broad brush" of claims of racial profiling and unconstitutional tactics should not apply to individual cases.
ICE spokesman Michael Gilhooly said Thursday the agency has "temporarily postponed" its fugitive search operations in Connecticut.
While critics say that is a sign the raids were flawed, Gilhooly said the move was "due to officer safety."
He said the raids were the same as numerous fugitive-search operations conducted throughout the country and were planned in advance of New Haven's decision on ID cards.
"Local governments have the right to pass local ordinances," Gilhooly said. "We have the obligation to enforce a wide range of immigration laws."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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