In the darkness before sunrise, a group of people began pushing 500-pound barrels filled with sand, rocks and concrete across the pavement, stopping in front of the glass doors of the federal building which housed Hartford’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

Hours later, in an act of civil disobedience, 33 of over 100 demonstrators in winter caps and thermal blankets chained their arms together or to steel bars inside the barrels. The demonstrators risked arrest to create this blockade with the goal of closing down the federal building in order to show support for Nelson Pinos Gonzalez, an Ecuadorian immigrant and Elm City resident who is facing deportation. The protesters demanded that ICE officials grant Pinos a stay — which would allow him to stay at his house, and not in sanctuary — while he awaits the outcome of a court appeal to vacate his deportation order.

“On the road to freedom, we shall not be moved. … Just like a tree that’s standing by the waterside, we shall not be moved,” protesters sang along the tune of trumpets and the beat of drums.

During an ICE check-in in October 2017, Pinos was asked to return permanently to Ecuador by the end of the month. Exactly one year ago, Pinos sought sanctuary at the First and United Methodist Church on the New Haven Green. In 2011, ICE’s then-director John Morton issued a memo directing officers not to enforce deportation orders in “sensitive locations,” such as houses of worship, schools and hospitals.

The Boston ICE office, affirming the recommendation of Hartford ICE Director Aldean Beaumont, denied Pinos’ request for a stay of removal filed by his legal team the day before Thanksgiving. Among those chained together in protest, were Pinos’ children, 16-year-old Kelly and 13-year-old Arlly.

At the start of the protest, a line of Hartford police officers stood in front of the crowd of more than 100 demonstrators on the sidewalk, blocking the office plaza. Protestors chanted “Keep Nelson Home.”

One community member announced on a megaphone that the demonstrators, once blockaded from the building’s plaza by the police officers, would move to the plaza to watch the “brave and courageous neighbors who will not be moved,” referring to the protesters chained in front of the doors.

“Sanctuary is not a passive thing. We sometimes think of a church and we think it’s a quiet place, and a safe place. But if you think of a whole year day after day being isolated by your community, by your family because the government is forcing you to do that. That is not a safe space,” said Constanza Segovia from Hartford Deportation Defense.

On Nov. 13, community members rallied in front of Hartford’s ICE office to ask the agency to allow Nelson to stay in the United States and be home for the holiday season. However, on Wednesday, the Boston office of ICE affirmed Beaumont’s recommendation that Pinos be denied his request for a stay of deportation, according to a press release from community activists.

In an email to the News, ICE New England Public Spokesman John Mohan confirmed that Pinos’ request for a stay was denied and that the removal order against Pinos remains in effect.

“Nelson Pinos-Gonzalez, a citizen of Ecuador, remains an immigration fugitive who is evading immigration enforcement at a site categorized by ICE as a sensitive location,” Mohan said in a statement. “Evading immigration enforcement does not void ICE’s authority to enforce a final order of removal.”

On Friday, the Rev. Scott Marks of New Haven led chants protesting deportations. Marks shouted “not one more,” and the crowd followed with “deportation.” Marks shouted “if we don’t get it,” and the crowd followed with “shut it down.”

There was heavy police presence at the demonstration. One hour into the rally, the Hartford Police pushed the crowd away from the plaza to the sidewalk, but left without incident. Following this, seven federal Homeland Security vehicles parked outside of the federal building. Demonstrators left the plaza to march down to Hartford City Hall at around 10 a.m.

The protest successfully closed down the federal building with ICE buildings to nonstaff members — as staff members entered and exited the building through another entryway — preventing scheduled meetings from occurring until the demonstrators left.

On Friday, a small group in Burlington, Massachusetts, took signs to ICE’s Boston field office — the regional ICE office which is responsible for Connecticut — in solidarity with Pinos, according to a tweet by Will Jouko Green, a Burlington resident. The Boston field office made the final call to deny Pinos’ request for stay, according to a Facebook post by the Rev. Vicki Flippin of First and Summerfield Church.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, released a statement on Nov. 30 marking the one-year anniversary of Pinos seeking sanctuary. DeLauro said President Donald Trump is contradicting himself when he says his administration targets “dangerous criminals and felons,” as Pinos is neither. She said that Pinos deserves to stay here in the United States.

“Where are our values? It is inhumane to force people into hiding like this. Instead of deporting productive members of our community who have lived here for decades, we should be working on comprehensive immigration reform that secures our border, protects Americans workers, and, crucially, creates a path to citizenship for the law-abiding,” DeLauro wrote in the release.

She said that the emotional burden that the Trump administration has placed on Pinos and his family is “the height of cruelty” and “does nothing to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.”

Carolyn Sacco contributed reporting.

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu