Christine Stuart photo

Hartford community groups braved the cold Monday to protest the November Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in which 21 alleged illegal immigrants from the city’s Brazilian community were arrested.

But at least one prominent member of the Brazilian community launched her own anti-protest as she march alongside the more than 50 protestors calling for an end to the ICE raids. Ester Sanches-Naek, president of the Shaheen Brazilian Community Center said, “The ICE was doing their job.” Draped in a Brazilian flag, Sanches-Naek held a sign thanking the Hartford Police for not taking away Brazilian woman and children.

The 21 alleged illegal Brazilian immigrants were arrested by Hartford police and federal immigration agents, who are working together to find a Brazilian-born man wanted on charges of attempted murder and robbery.

Christine Stuart photo
Ester Sanches-Naek pictured (Christine Stuart photo)

As the rally was wrapping up, Sanches-Naek asked for the microphone but was denied an opportunity to convey her message to the crowd there to protest the immigration raids.

Councilman-elect Luis Cotto, who joined Monday’s protest, said Sanches-Naek wants to go back to the way things were before the raids, but that’s not going to happen. He said Hartford Police Chief Daryl Roberts said it’s possible that more immigrants here illegally may be arrested during the course of the ongoing investigation of an attempted murder, which has local police cooperating with ICE officials.

Where does Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez stand on the issue? Cotto said Perez hasn’t taken a stand on immigration, but Cotto plans on making it an issue as soon as he’s sworn in.

“I didn’t get voted in to do the safe things,” Cotto said between taking part in numerous chants, including, “Hey hey, ho ho, the racist raids have got to go,” and “The people, united, will never be defeated.”

But Perez isn’t the only politician who appears to be steering clear of the immigration controversy. U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and Christopher Dodd were asked to send a representative to the rally, or at least a statement to be read to the gathering, but neither weighed in on the issue. Congressman John Larson’s staff watched the protestors walk to the federal building from the second floor of Larson’s office at 221 Main St., but also chose not to participate.

Frank O’Gorman, of People of Faith CT, said all of the aforementioned elected officials were invited to the rally, and he was disappointed that none attended, sent representatives, or even statements to the event.

“It goes to show you how low a priority it is for our representatives in Washington,” O’Gorman said.

Labor representatives were among the speakers at the rally.

“We are a force to be reckoned with,” Rochelle Palache of SEIU told the crowd outside the federal building following a four-block march down Main Street. “We’re not here to steal jobs. We’re here to make a difference.”

Other speakers spoke about a new atmosphere of hostility toward Latino immigrants that has been created by the raids.

“I want to live in a city where people don’t live in fear,” Mayra Esquilin, president of Hartford Areas Rally Together, said.

Participants said that the rally’s attendance of 50 or so people is not indicative of the level of concern within the community, because many folks were likely afraid to attend because of the risk of arrest and/or deportation. A legal defense from the National Lawyers Guild walked with the protestors to ensure nobody’s rights were violated.

Police officers blocked off one lane of Main Street to allow the march, for which organizer Jason McGahan said a permit was granted by the city. Officers did not otherwise interfere.

Click here for Mark Spencer’s article in the Hartford Courant.