Boycott for immigrant rights in Connecticut

By Todd Dewey and Rebecca Lewis

DANBURY, Conn.--Main Street was eerily quiet on February 6. For blocks, dark and empty storefronts boasted pink fliers announcing that they were closed for the day.

Restaurants and shops along the usually busy street closed in protest of a proposed local ordinance that would partner city police with agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In all, more than 50 businesses participated in the boycott on the day of the City Council vote.

While Main Street may have been virtually abandoned, the street in front of Danbury City Hall was alive with the voices of more than 4,000 people who came to demonstrate against the measure while the city council held their vote inside.

In spite of the turnout, Danbury's City Council ignored the public outcry and passed the anti-immigrant ordinance in a 19-2 vote. The bill will allow Danbury police to act as immigration agents, in some cases beginning deportation proceedings against individuals who they believe are undocumented.

Although Mayor Mark Boughton claims the law is intended to be used only against "criminals," local residents warn that it will create a general sense of fear throughout Danbury's large immigrant population, especially in the wake of 11 arrests, in which local police posed as contractors and offered work to day laborers at a local pick-up spot, only to turn them over to ICE agents.

Danbury community members were joined by activists from all corners of the state and even Rhode Island, chanting "Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos, y si nos echan, nos regresamos" (We're here, we're not leaving, and if you throw us out, we'll be back). Chants of "The people united will never be defeated" echoed through the streets in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

People throughout the crowd felt a sense of urgency and hope. As one activist said, "La migra's going to get a fight. We won't take this quietly." When local police began taking pictures of the crowd from the rooftop of city hall, the crowd burst out in chants of "This is what democracy looks like, that is what hypocrisy looks like!" and "Whose streets? Our streets!"

The contrast between the ghost town on Main Street and the apparently spontaneous demonstration at City Hall brought to mind May Day 2006, when immigrants and their supporters shut down businesses in many U.S. cities and took to the streets by the millions in protest of federal anti-immigrant legislation.

The Danbury ordinance won't go into effect before this summer, which will provide immigrant rights organizers with some months to mount a campaign to find a way to combat this unjust law.