HARTFORD, CT — With the Mexican border and family separation at the center of the immigration debate, hundreds of protesters blocked the entrance to the federal building where Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has its offices.
Police filled at least six vans with arrested protesters totaling 35 before 10 a.m. and limited entrance to the building that also houses the federal court and other federal offices. One block of Main Street was shut down in front of the courthouse.
“Our goal was to disrupt the business of ICE,” Carolina Bortolleto, the undocumented leader of Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, said. “I think we accomplished that for the day.”
More than two dozen Hartford Police officers began moving in on protesters around 9:10 a.m. as a band continued to play and protesters continued to shout.
“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” they shouted as protesters were marched by Hartford police into the vans.
Protesters shouted “shame, shame, shame” at the Hartford officers for “carrying out the work of ICE.”
The protesters called for the government to abolish ICE. It seems to be the polar opposite of President Donald Trump’s “Build the Wall” chant from his election-year rallies.
Trump’s efforts to fund and build the wall have thus far been unsuccessful since he took office in January 2017. However, his administration cracked down on immigration by adopting a new “zero-tolerance” policy April 6, which let to the separation of more 2,000 children from their families. In some cases, children were taken from their parents pending court proceedings, and then the parent was deported without their child.
The president continued to insist, as recently as last week, that immigrants are “violent criminals.”
He has vowed to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities,” where police don’t cooperate with ICE unless there’s a judicial warrant for an arrest and not simply a civil detainer.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said “ICE has distorted its mission.”
“Instead of keeping our country safe, it’s carrying out an agenda pushed by President Trump that divides us,” Bronin said. “It’s criminalizing immigration, separating children from families at the border contrary to human decency and values that make America great to begin with.”
Mongi Dhaouadi, who joined the protesters Monday, said as an immigrant and a Muslim, America has to be a place where people can immigrate through legal means and respected means.
Getting rid of ICE might not be the answer to all the problems, Dhaouadi said, “but it would be in a step in the right direction.”
He said ICE has turned into a “tool of oppression, a tool to take away decency, a tool to break up families.”
“We demand that the Trump administration stop jailing and prosecuting immigrants,” Bortolleto said. “We refuse solutions that divide our community into those who deserve humanitarian relief and those who are caged and dehumanized. We call for freedom for all migrants, not just kids and parents.”
The American Immigration Lawyers Association has reported that 184 individuals have died in ICE detention facilities since 2003.
“We don’t need ICE to be reformed. We need it gone,” Bortolleto said. “We don’t need ‘family-friendly’ cages. We need to abolish cages and recognize the dignity and humanity of every migrant.”
Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said clearly ICE is not working and it makes sense that it should be abolished.