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Connecticut immigrant rights groups join a national call to defund Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Communities Not Cages
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Nicholes Abrego, 18 months old, is held by his father, Mario Abrego of Naugatuck, as immigrant rights groups mobilize in front of the Abraham A. Ribicoff Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse as part of Communities Not Cages, a national day of action in Hartford, Connecticut, March 3, 2022.

Mario Abrego came to the U.S. 13 years ago, undocumented, from Guatemala. After a run-in with the law, he was ordered deported.

“I was detained in immigration detention for a month, and since then, we haven’t done well at all,” Abrego said in Spanish while holding his 18-month-old baby firmly in his arms with his wife by his side at a rally Thursday. “We spent a lot of money on lawyers, and we’re still fighting in court.”

Abrego joined members of Connecticut’s immigrant rights community in front of Hartford’s federal court building to call for defunding the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Those gathered demanded the closure of ICE’s detention centers and called on the Biden administration to deliver on a campaign promise to reduce detention and deportations.

“Our people are suffering and dying,” Carmen Lanche said. “We have witnessed the mistreatment of the Haitian community at the border and the nearly 20,000 people who were deported without an opportunity to present their cases in court.”

During the rally, members placed symbolic cardboard coffins with candles and flowers as they held signs and chanted.

“Sometimes we feel as if this problem is not near us because the border is miles away and we shouldn’t worry,” Javier Villatoro said. But he said you don’t have to be at the actual border to feel the agency’s reach. “ICE is the border separating us here in our cities.”

Advocates say that undocumented immigrants can be deported for even the most minor of crimes. Villatoro said he also lived that separation when his uncle was deported after spending three years in prison on an arrest that followed a traffic accident.

Communities Not Cages
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Ben Haldeman, a New Haven legal assistance immigration attorney, spoke as immigrant rights groups mobilized in front of the Abraham A. Ribicoff Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse as part of Communities Not Cages, a national day of action in Hartford, Connecticut, March 3, 2022.

Activists are also calling for the release of those currently in ICE detention centers, highlighting the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts – one of the detention centers where many immigrants detained in Connecticut are sent.

A detention center in Bristol County, Massachusetts, was closed last year in response to a damning report by the attorney general.

Immigration defense attorney Ben Haldeman has worked with immigrants detained by ICE in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. He says that while the center in Bristol has been closed, the treatment remains the same for clients transferred to Plymouth.

“We’ve heard complaints of poor nutrition and physical and verbal abuse. We’ve heard of people being thrown in the hole for little or no reason,” Haldeman said. “We’ve heard of people who have tested positive for COVID being mixed in with other detainees with reckless disregard for people’s health and safety.”

Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment.

Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Brenda covers the Latino/a, Latinx community with an emphasis on wealth-based disparities in health, education and criminal justice.

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