Activists Protest Raids On Suspected Illegal Immigrants, Urge City To Adopt Policy
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer
December 11, 2007
Immigration activists were galvanized last month when 21 people suspected of being illegal immigrants from Brazil were arrested in Hartford's Parkville neighborhood by city police and federal immigration agents.
On Monday, the activists took to the streets.
They marched from South Green Park at Main and Park streets to the federal building at 450 Main St., demanding that the raids be stopped and that the city show more support for immigrants, regardless of their status.
Mayra Esquilin, president of Hartford Areas Rally Together, told about 150 people who gathered outside the federal building Monday night that immigration raids are "devastating to our community and our families."
Police have said they asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to assist in an investigation of a shooting on South Whitney Street on Oct in which a Brazilian-born man was being sought on attempted murder and robbery charges. In the process, ICE picked up 21 people suspected of being in the country illegally.
Most have since been released on bond and the suspect, Moises Coutinho, is still at large. Coutinho, 23, is accused of shooting a man in the neck in a small Brazilian restaurant on South Whitney Street on Oct. 2. The victim has since been released from a hospital.
The arrests caused alarm in Parkville's emerging Brazilian community.
A coalition of immigration, religious, student and labor groups have been meeting since the raids to develop a response, including trying to mount political pressure on the city to develop clear policies for how the police should interact with immigrants.
Luis Cotto and Larry Deutsch, elected to the city council in November as members of the Working Families Party, both attended Monday's march and said they would push for policies that limit when police can inquire about immigration status.
Cotto said immigration status should not matter to the city, whether it's the health department or police department. He said the city government has more important things to focus on than enforcing what he calleda broken federal system.
"We're not supposed to be doing their work for them, not on our time and our dime," Cotto said.
Mayor Eddie Perez has been noncommittal about implementing new policies, or adopting other measures such as a municipal identification card available to illegal immigrants, as New Haven did this year.
At a community meeting in Parkville last month sponsored by the Brazilian Alliance, Perez expressed general support for immigrants, regardless of their status, but also said the city "had to do what we had to do" in investigating the shooting.
"I think it's time for the city to review whether we need a policy and what that policy should be," Perez said.
Paula Grenier, a spokesperson for ICE based in Boston, said Monday that ICE agents would continue to assist Hartford police when their help was requested.
Monday's march was sponsored by more than a dozen organizations, including Stop the Raids, a Trinity College-based group, People of Faith and the state chapter of the Service Employees International Union.
The noisy, upbeat demonstrators, chanting and carrying signs with messages such as "Working is not a crime," briefly slowed rush hour traffic on Main Street as they marched to the federal building, where ICE has offices.
Ester Sanches-Naek, president of the Shaheen Brazilian Cultural Center in Parkville, showed up with her own message, carrying a large sign thanking police and ICE for making sure a guardian was left with children when a parent was detained.
Sanches-Naek, draped in a Brazilian flag, said no arrests have occurred since Chief Daryl Roberts attended a forum at the center Nov. 8 and the community has returned to normal. She said demonstrations could damage the relationship between police and the community.
"There were no more arrests," she said. "Why are they doing this?"
But Leandro Gomes, another Brazilian at the march, said Brazilians remain fearful, which is why few of them were at the march.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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