MERIDEN — Groups from around the state protested Immigration and Customs Enforcement detentions and deportations outside the courthouse Wednesday morning.
The protest was partly in response to an incident in December 2018 at the courthouse, involving City Councilor Miguel Castro, who was also present Wednesday.
“This is a demonstration to address the unfairness and hatred behavior and discriminatory behavior inside this courthouse by judicial marshals,” Castro said at the protest.
He said the group was gathered to shed light on what he claims is a flawed process of ICE detentions that has been “discriminatory and hateful against members of our community.”
Castro was arrested last December during a protest against the deportation of a Mexican national, Arnoldo Velazquez-Perez, from New Haven, by ICE agents. He faces charges of assaulting a public safety officer, a class C felony, and first-degree riot, a class A misdemeanor. Last week, his case was continued to next month as his attorney and the prosecutor continue discussions.
The planned protest saw about 50 people outside the courthouse, with surveillance from local and state police officers. Protesters engaged in chants about stopping deportation and encouraging immigration. Speakers included Hartford resident Rosario Tepoz, whose 4-year-old son was detained alone for two weeks in 2014 while trying to cross the border and join his parents.
One protestor, Shelly Altman, said he was there to put pressure on the government and officials to stop abusing people and separating parents from children. He was also there to protest judicial marshals detaining people for ICE to take into custody.
“The judicial marshals are cooperating with ICE to hold people who have court dates. They're holding them after they've been released by the courts so that ICE can come and take them away and so I'm here to protest that,” said Altman, chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace in New Haven.
Melissa Farley, executive director of external affairs for the Connecticut Judicial Branch, said the director or deputy director of judicial marshal services makes the decision whether or not to follow detention requests from ICE.
She could not specifically comment on the detention of Mexican national Arnoldo Velazquez-Perez after his guilty plea to several impaired driving and criminal impersonation charges, but said the local Meriden marshals would have been following orders from central office.
“The judicial marshals are complying with the law and that’s our responsibility,” Farley said.
She said in the past two years the central office has honored about 27 percent of the detaining requests it receives from ICE. The decision to deny is based on a Connecticut statute called the Trust Act, which was enacted in 2013. It outlines seven criteria the person in question must meet in order to be detained, which the administration reviews carefully.
“We take the responsibility very seriously and the decision about whether to hold someone when there's request by ICE,” Farley said.
During this year’s legislative session, two public acts were passed revising the Trust Act to include only three necessary criteria. The new criteria will not go into effect until Oct. 1 this year.
City Councilor Bob Williams was also in attendance at Wednesday’s protest, to show support for public safety officials.
“I think we'd be in a world of hurt without these men and women who put their lives on the line daily,” Williams said Wednesday.