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Hartford protest against border patrol sweeps shuts down intersection, ends in arrests (video)

  • Protesters prevent a frustrated motorist from passing through the intersection of Maple Street and Hartford Avenue in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 14, 2019. About 200 were protesting recent immigration arrests and delays by the Hartford Selectboard to enact policy changes. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Asma Elhuni is amongst the 26 protesters arrested by Hartford Police following a two-hour blockage of traffic at the intersection of Maple Street and Hartford Avenue in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 14, 2019. About 200 were protesting recent immigration arrests and delays by the Hartford Selectboard to enact policy changes. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Protesters react to police arresting fellow activists following a two-hour blockage of traffic at the intersection of Maple Street and Hartford Avenue in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 14, 2019. About 200 were protesting recent immigration arrests and delays by the Hartford Selectboard to enact policy changes. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 14, 2019

HARTFORD — What started as a peaceful rally supporting immigrant rights ended in more than two dozen arrests on Wednesday evening after activists blocked traffic for nearly two hours at the intersection of routes 5 and 14 in White River Junction.

The rally was organized in response to reports of arrests of undocumented immigrants by Border Patrol agents in recent weeks in the Upper Valley. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that 18 people were arrested in the Upper Valley between July 29 and Aug. 1.

The arrests came during an impassioned debate in Hartford over a proposed ordinance to govern communication with federal immigration authorities. That federal agents made arrests in the community as residents were debating protections for immigrants “is no accident,” said James Lyall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.

“That’s what ICE does. They are bullies,” Lyall said. “We are not going to be silenced.”

Wednesday’s rally started at 4:30 p.m. in Lyman Point Park with members of the grassroots group Rise! Upper Valley, which organized the event, giving speeches. Some addressed the recent Border Patrol arrests, while others touched on the fact that the Selectboard has yet to adopt proposals that supporters say would provide greater protections to undocumented immigrants.

Two of the speakers said the recent Border Patrol arrests involved people in the construction trade, who were arrested at McDonald’s and the Super 8 Motel in Hartford. The activists called for the individuals who are detained to be released.

Many of the statements elicited a rise out of the crowd, including one by Upper Valley Interfaith Project Lead Organizer Asma Elhuni.

“Thank you for your cheers, but honestly I am not happy,” Elhuni said. “We have ... members that are from our community that were picked up, that were stolen...”

“Are we OK with that? she yelled.

“No!” the crowd shouted back.

“I want us all to march,” Elhuni said. “Follow me. I am going to go march. Let’s tell Hartford no more.”

The 200 or so people in attendance then left the Town Hall parking lot and spilled out onto Bridge Street before turning west on Route 14.

The procession stopped at the intersection with Hartford Avenue, or Route 5, with the protestors blocking the whole width of the roadway.

Motorists caught up in the protest became agitated, with some driving toward the crowd and others getting out of their vehicles to yell at the activists.

“Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here,” the protesters chanted as they marched. “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

Around 6 p.m., as protestors continued chanting and blocking the roads, police used bullhorns to announce that protestors in the road had five minutes to clear the intersection or they could face arrests.

About 30 minutes later, the number of protesters in the roadway had winnowed to about two dozen and they all locked arms.

Around 7:20 p.m., police started making arrests, a process that took about 20 minutes.

“We are with you!” the group chanted at times. “The whole world is watching!”

Several of the two dozen activists voluntarily placed their hands behind their backs and were arrested without incident. But at least a half-dozen people resisted, and officers used force to place them in handcuffs.

One woman refused to roll over onto her stomach so she could be handcuffed, so several officers turned her over, handcuffed her and carried her to an awaiting cruiser.

“Shame! Shame! Shame!” a group of roughly 200 activists chanted in the background.

In all, 26 protesters were arrested, charged and released on a citation of “rioters refusing to disperse.”

Officers from Hartford, Lebanon, Hanover and Vermont State Police worked with a liaison for the activists for more than an hour to try to get each individual to surrender, but it became clear that those efforts were going to fail as the sun began to set, something Hartford Deputy Chief Brad Vail called “unfortunate.”

“We recognize that everyone is concerned about this issue across the country and certainly here in our community,” Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten said after the rally. “We understand that people came forward tonight to share those concerns.”

Hartford Selectboard Chairman Simon Dennis called the arrests of undocumented immigrants “tragic events in our town’s history.”

“They undermine our fundamental efforts to create a safe place to live,” he said in a written response to questions. “Hartford’s history is now mixed with an inhumane and cruel organization that is carrying out a practice and policy that is absolutely antithetical to our core values as a community. … We are heartbroken by the reality that lives are being uprooted and families separated in our town.”

Dennis said the potential ordinance the board was considering was “clearly not relevant” to whether or not the arrests would have happened, because no Hartford agency “had any level of participation or even knowledge that they were taking place.”

The way forward, he said, is for the Selectboard to continue working to “pass or advance an ordinance that protects undocumented residents and visitors to the greatest extent possible.”

The rally prompted the closure of Town Hall at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and the cancelation of a joint Selectboard and School Board meeting.

Not long after the last police cruiser left with the last arrestee, the group of activists, several of whom had already departed, left the intersection.

They had a few final words for those listening, and urged elected officials to take action to protect immigrants.

“Pass the ordinance!” the group shouted.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi @ vnews.com or 603-727-3248.