A raid on a wedding reception

June 11, 2010

Nancy Welch reports on another anti-immigrant travesty, this time in Vermont.

"THEY JUST came in like it was a war zone." Those were the words of 28-year-old Thierno Diallo, as he and his wife Danielle described in a press conference on June 9 how immigration agents raided their wedding reception four days before in St. Albans, Vt., north of Burlington.

"I told them they had no place here," said Diallo, a native of Guinea and coach for the semi-professional soccer team Vermont Voltage. "I asked them how they would feel if I showed up at their wedding and asked for papers."

The Diallos were celebrating their marriage with 70 guests at a reception in the soccer team's clubhouse when half a dozen U.S. Border Patrol and Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) vehicles arrived at about 9 p.m. "They wanted to know where everyone was coming from," Diallo said. "They wanted to see everyone's papers."

The Diallos' guests included friends and family from Vermont, plus many people who'd traveled from Canadian and U.S. cities to celebrate the marriage, which included a traditional West African drumming ceremony.

San Francisco's second annual May Day demonstration for immigrant rights in 2007
San Francisco's second annual May Day demonstration for immigrant rights in 2007 (Jessica Hansen-Weaver | SW)

"The agents said someone had called them and said there were people here from all over," Danielle told reporters at the press conference, which longtime anti-racist advocate and University of Vermont professor Patrick Brown helped them organize. "But there was no call to the St. Albans police. There had been no complaints about noise."

Although the Diallos urged all their guests inside the reception hall, and told ICE and Border Patrol they were not welcome, the agents lingered outside for 45 more minutes. Too shaken to stay, most of the guests soon left.

"Because of them, my ceremony went sour," Thierno said. "The reception, all the food, all wasted." Danielle added, "All of our guests left with a very sour view of how people are treated in Vermont."

The Diallos said they wanted to tell their story because racist and anti-immigrant harassment are daily realities for the state's immigrants and racial minorities. The climate has worsened during the economic downturn and with the passage of measures like Arizona's notorious SB 1070 that legalizes racial profiling.

On a recent night out with the soccer team, Thierno said, an off-duty ICE agent harassed him in a popular Burlington bar, flashing his badge, asking if he was "legal," and threatening him with arrest.

"When we first started dating five years ago, I told him, 'You must be overreacting,'" Danielle said. "But he gets pulled over, like, 10 times a year, for no reason. It's always, 'You were a little over the speed limit' or 'You didn't signal properly before that turn.'"

The Diallos said they also wanted to make this harassment known because they believe most Vermonters would be appalled. "If someone in St. Albans did call immigration just because they saw a lot of people who don't look like them," Danielle said, "I don't think the majority of people would find that acceptable."

The Diallos' experience comes just as immigrant rights activists in Burlington--the state's largest town, about 30 miles south of St. Albans--are planning to introduce a city council resolution to boycott Arizona until its anti-immigrant laws are repealed and reaffirm that Burlington is a city of immigrants.

Although all of the guests on Saturday night were authorized to be in the U.S.--ICE and the Border Patrol left empty-handed--to the Diallos, it shouldn't even have been a question. "This country was built by immigrants," Thierno said. "It isn't right to be asking people if they have papers."

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