Around 100 local activists, legal aid organizations, religious leaders and community members gathered outside the New Haven County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon to demonstrate against recent courthouse arrests and deportations in Connecticut. “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here,” protesters shouted in between speeches at the event.

“We’re here today because [President Donald] Trump’s administration has emboldened an already rogue agency to treat courthouses and our criminal justice system as a hunting ground,” said Ana María Rivera-Forastieri, an employee at the Connecticut Bail Fund.

At the protest — organized by the Connecticut Bail Fund and Unidad Latina en Acción, a New Haven-based grassroots immigrant activist group — several speakers involved in undocumented immigrant rights organizing and law urged attendees to take action and show support for undocumented immigrants in New Haven. The protesters said state residents have recently been removed from courthouses in Stamford, Bridgeport and New Haven, as well as at the York Correctional Institute — the only women’s prison in Connecticut — by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

“We’ve heard of all of the stories across the nation … of ICE agents stalking these [court] buildings, pepper spraying people, dragging people out of court, but it’s also happening here in Connecticut,” Rivera-Forastieri said.

Diana Blank, who was at the event representing the Staff Attorneys Union at the New Haven Legal Assistance, said she is alarmed by the increasing presence of ICE officials in courts.

Blank said undocumented immigrants she has worked with now avoid entering courthouses, for fear that ICE officials will be there. She said this has prevented some undocumented immigrants from seeking restraining orders or information on how to receive child support.

Connecticut Public Affairs Officer for ICE John Mohan said that ICE, like other state and federal law enforcement agencies, makes arrests at courthouses to ensure laws are enforced in a “safe and efficient” manner. He said courthouse arrests are often necessary because of the unwillingness of local jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE.

“Because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers, the arrestee, and members of the community are substantially diminished,” Mohan said in an email to the News. “In such instances, ICE officers and agents make every effort to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible.”

At the rally, Rivera-Forastieri said that earlier this month, Marco Mendieta — who is originally from Mexico and has been in the country for roughly five years — appeared at the New Haven County Courthouse and was quickly detained by ICE agents. In an interview with the News, Rivera-Forastieri said she met with Mendieta’s family, who informed her that Mendieta was deported to Mexico earlier this week. ICE said it could not comment within a single day on a specific case. Joe Murolo — an employee at the courthouse clerk’s office — and other courthouse employees said they were not aware of any ICE agents entering the courthouse to arrest undocumented immigrants.

While Unidad Latina en Acción used to tell undocumented immigrants to never enter an immigration court without an attorney, she said, now it is suggesting that they never enter any court alone, including state and federal courts.

“It used to be that ICE used to raid people at their homes or at jobs,” Suarez said. “But if their new strategy is to raid people at the courts, and it’s not something that’s happened before, and people don’t know about it, we have to create that awareness.”

Suarez said that because ICE personnel are not required to wear a standard uniform on duty, often undocumented immigrants are unprepared to engage with these agents.

Unidad Latina en Acción members also passed around a petition to New Haven residents, urging the city to update its sanctuary policies. The petition calls for the city to extend a sanctuary policy that applies only to police to cover all city employees and officials; protect resident’s personal information, including their sexual orientation and immigration status; and limit the city’s communication and cooperation with immigration authorities and ICE.

The Connecticut Bail Fund was founded in 2016.

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu