Last week, I stood in front of the ICE offices in Hartford for several hours -- ironically directly across the street from the lesbian law firm that my partner and I paid a lot of money to protect our queer family from the Trump administration (they helped us with the second parent adoption of our second child).
I stood there on the sidewalk, offering hot cider and a flier to passersby because another queer family in my community has been targeted by the Trump administration for no good reason. Wayzaro “Tazz” Walton is a parent, spouse, friend, and awesome community member who has been separated from her wife Tamika and teenager in ICE custody for the last 7 months for no good reason.
For the last year, Hartford Deportation Defense has been working with Tazz and her family to fight for stay after stay – before they took her into custody and since. ICE says they want to deport her because she’s a “danger to society” – but Tazz has received a full pardon for the only crime she’s been charged with. In this society that overpolices people of color, queer folks, and immigrants, I’m skeptical of most claims to “danger to society,” but in this case, ICE isn’t even following their own practice of respecting state pardons because we are one of only a few states where the governor doesn’t do pardons; instead, we have a more progressive system of a governor-appointed Board of Pardons and Paroles that pardons hundreds of people a year after thoroughly being reach application. The governor cannot unilaterally pardon anyone – only the pardon board has that power.
But ICE chooses to ignore this for no good reason.
Two weeks ago, an ICE officer told Wayzaro that they would be deporting her in three days. Three days!! The community rallied in front of the ICE building and once again pressured ICE as well as our Governor Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong to push ICE to respect the pardon. Because of community organizing over the last many months, that afternoon we won what had seemed impossible: another stay! This time from the Board of Immigration Appeals.
The good news is that Tamika and Hartford Deportation Defense and our wider community have won victory after victory – Tazz would have been deported to a country she hasn’t known since she was 3 had it not been for the our rallying at ICE offices in Burlington, MA (with the support of local UUs) and here in Hartford; if not for the the hundreds of postcards we’ve sent to regional ICE director Todd Lyons; if not for the persistent calls we’ve made to ICE offices, and if not for the hundreds of calls to CT Governor Ned Lamont to continue to advocate for our pardon system.
The bad news is that Tazz is still in a cage, separated from her family and community and under threat of deportation for no good reason.
That’s why I stood outside ICE last week, taking a shift in the weeklong encampment demanding Tazz’s release. Dozens of people stayed overnight through rain and windstorms, and were overwhelmed by food and warm drinks over 7 days – because we know that none of us is free until all of us are free. Because we know that Tazz will be free.
Some faith communities have been reluctant to support the #FreeTazz campaign because she is queer and Black. Thankfully, lots of community members, including Unitarian Universalists from the congregation I serve in Hartford and others from Manchester, Meriden, and more have all taken turns showing up, making calls, and sending postcards (including over 50 on one Sunday morning alone!).
Our UU support is just one small piece of the campaign to #FreeTazz. My few hours supporting the encampment were one small piece. And I invite you to join in one small piece: Call your Congressional representatives and tell them that ICE is not respecting Connecticut's freedom to design our own pardon system.
Because their homophobia and xenophobia and racism have no place in our hearts, our homes, or our country….so let’s keep organizing!
For more information and to support Tazz, please follow Hartford Deportation Defense on Facebook.