By Miguel Castro
In tears, 15-year-old Briseidi ran to her father as he was being taken away by ICE agents. Several of us went to comfort and support her. I was arrested, charged with assaulting two judicial marshals. That was December 13, 2018 at the Meriden Courthouse. After eleven agonizing months, the judge dropped all charges against me. The state prosecutor admitted in court that the video evidence did not support the marshals’ description of what occurred. I am relieved that my ordeal is over, but take little comfort because I know that so many immigrants still face unrelenting threats and harm.
On that day, Elias Roblero was in court to answer charges of driving under the influence. The hearing was short; the state prosecutor and the public defender agreed that Elias was a family man with no criminal history and did not deserve jail time. The judge concurred, imposing an eleven-month suspended sentence and two years’ probation. Elias’ wife, son and daughter were waiting for him. Elias only needed to check in with the parole office, sign some forms, and be released to his family.
When leaving the court room, Elias was held by judicial marshals, detained intentionally so he could be transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Judicial marshals called ICE to share information of the court proceeding, assisting a deportation effort despite the judge ruling that Elias was a free man. ICE took Elias away in front of his wife, kids and friends.
Elias’ story is not uncommon. For years federal authorities, often aided by state and local law enforcement, have engaged in a campaign to deport as many immigrants as possible, with little regard to how long they have been in the country or the lives they have built. Elias had children, a steady job, and a good life in Connecticut. He had made a mistake, but a judge, following Connecticut law and due process, rendered a verdict that Elias was to be released back to his family and community. That did not matter to the judicial marshals or ICE.
The Trump administration has unleashed a sweeping, cruel and misguided deportation offensive. Courts ruled that ICE cannot require state and local officials to be its deportation agents. An immigration detainer is simply an administrative request by an ICE employee, not a judicial warrant that must meet constitutional requirements of probable cause and be signed by a judge.
When our state or local governments unnecessarily abet the Trump deportation rampage, we are diverting resources from genuine public safety activities. We are also sowing terror in our immigrant communities, building distrust of our public institutions, and discouraging witnesses and victims from coming forward to utilize our law enforcement and court systems.
The Connecticut Trust Act, adopted in 2013 and strengthened in 2019, sets standards for state and local authorities’ cooperation with ICE agents seeking to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. It prohibits our law enforcement officials from detaining someone solely on the basis of an ICE request unless a judicial warrant has been issued, or the person is guilty of a serious felony, or is on the terrorist watch list.
The false prosecution against me was a travesty of justice. Witness accounts and video recordings proved my innocence. For eleven months I refused any deals and carried on my case, not simply to clear my own good name, but because there was a greater cause to be advanced.
Our courthouses are not just buildings; they are temples of justice. They are places where people should feel safe and can have their pleas freely, fairly heard. Justice must flourish in these hallowed spaces.
Because I am a public official, I had a greater microphone than others who are victimized. The malicious, racist attacks on our immigrant neighbors not only destroy families, but rend the very fabric of our communities. The marshals who lied about me, who violated the spirit if not the letter of the Trust Act before it was strengthened, and who were so desperate to expel an immigrant, appear to believe that America should be reserved for one certain type of people. They treat immigrants in our courts as objects of hate. I know firsthand because I too was a target of their abuse.
These marshals, and the system that allows their abusive practices, must be held accountable. The state prosecutor declared in open court – as I already knew and the Record-Journal reported – “the video did not match an account included in a police report [by] the marshals.” The prosecutor chose his words carefully but the conclusion is clear. The marshals lied in sworn statements against me. One has been allowed to retire (I assume with full benefits); one has been allowed to resign; and one continues to be employed. Let’s say their names, let’s show their pictures, let’s do a roll call of those who violated the public trust. While I have been exonerated, I do not regard this matter to be closed. The state must investigate, prosecute and punish those who perpetrated this mockery of justice.
We are a nation of immigrants. Meriden is a better place because of our immigrant neighbors who enrich our city with their vitality, hard work and good deeds. Let us all push back against the politics of hate and fear. Let us all protect and defend our immigrant families and communities.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” Please live with me in this righteous struggle.
Miguel Castro is a Meriden City Councilor.