Pastor Silvio Almeida's phone starting ringing early Friday with calls from panicked parishioners asking what he knew about raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in the Parkville section of Hartford.
"All the people called me this morning and said, `Pastor, can you help?'" said Almeida, who ministers to a predominantly Brazilian congregation at Emmanuel Assembly of God church on South Whitney Street.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Paula Grenier said Friday that nine people were detained in Hartford, although she said the names, nationality and addresses of those arrested were not available. She said an ICE fugitive operation team arrested one person on an outstanding deportation order.
The others were apparently swept up in the raid, suspected of being illegal immigrants. Grenier declined to say how many warrants agents were trying to serve Friday.
"It was a routine operation by a fugitive operation team," she said.
Word of the raids spread rapidly in Parkville, which has seen an influx of Brazilians in recent years. Sources said the raids began at about 7 a.m. and ICE agents went to homes and businesses on Park, South Whitney and Carpenter streets.
"People are afraid right now," Almeida said. "I've never seen this before."
Pastor Charley Faria, of Baptist Community Church of Hartford on Flatbush Avenue, said he understood that ICE agents were just doing their job, but was concerned because families are being split apart when a parent is deported, leaving behind children who were born in this country.
"Some of them have been here for a very long time but not had an opportunity to fix their status," Faria said.
Bruno Bastos, 19, who was born in the U.S. of Brazilian parents, was grabbing a bite to eat Friday at Bem Brasil Buffet on South Whitney Street. He said he knew three of the people detained and that fear of more raids was spreading in the neighborhood.
"I don't know why they don't let the people work, have a nice life," he said.
Raids by ICE fugitive operations teams, started in 2003, have dramatically increased in the past year. The teams target immigrants with a standing deportation order, but also arrest other immigrants they believe are in the U.S. illegally.
By the end of September, the 75 fugitive operation teams in the U.S. had detained about 30,400 people in this fiscal year, almost double the number detained in all of fiscal 2006, according to ICE. There are about 595,000 fugitive immigrants in the country, ICE estimates.
But as the raids have increased, so have protests by immigration activists and questions about their constitutionality.
Sweeps by ICE fugitive operation teams in New Haven in June led to demonstrations and are being aggressively challenged in federal immigration court in Hartford by a team of law professors and students from Yale's Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization.
Jason McGahan, a member of Stop the Raids, a Trinity College-based group, said activists will help any of the people detained Friday who want it.
"It drives home that we have to mobilize in response to these attacks if we are going to protect the immigrant community. Otherwise they are sure to continue," he said.
Peter Gadiel, a member of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania-based 9/11 Families for a Secure America, said such raids simply enforce the law.
"They are one necessary aspect of enforcing our immigration law, in addition to such measures of depriving them of getting jobs," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at