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Friday, July 5, 2013

New Connecticut Law Places Limits On Immigrants being Turned over to Federal Authorities

By Geoffrey J. Miller

Photo Credit: Jaaron CC
In a measure, noted by proponents as the first of its kind, the State of Connecticut is limiting its response to the detention requests it receives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney of New Haven, this law "establishes the principle that the state of Connecticut should not be acting upon ICE detainer requests for people who have not committed a serious crime.''

This new bill, signed into law last week by Governor Dannel P. Malloy, pertains to the federal ICE "Secure Communities Initiative," in which arrestee fingerprints are checked against FBI criminal history and shared with ICE. This often leads to the removal of immigrants even if they have not committed any crime. Since the initiative began, 474 people have been removed as a result and according to ICE, about 300 were convicted criminals.

An unfortunate side effect of the ICE Initiative is a general distrust building between the immigrant community and the authorities. If being falsely accused of taking a pack of gum could land a person back in war-torn Syria, for instance, then it is easy to see why this policy has caused many in the immigrant community to stay away from police. This has led to a lack of witnesses at trials, domestic violence going unreported and a host of other problems.

With this new law in place, Connecticut authorities will only honor detention requests by the ICE pertaining to immigrants who have felony convictions, belong to gangs, show up on terrorist watch lists, are subject to deportation orders or meet other safety risks.  Immigrants who do not meet those qualifications will not be detained longer than any other person.

A program similar to this one was enacted in Fairfield County in June 2010 and a statewide policy through the Department of Correction was enacted last year.  This caused the number of people turned over to ICE to drop by about two-thirds.  The new law confirms the need for the program and extends it to local police departments.

In an exclusive interview with Breaking into Connecticut Law, Hartford immigration attorney, Erin O'Neil Baker explained that many people make the mistake of confusing the immigration laws, which are civil laws, with criminal laws. In reality, it is a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, but not a crime to be in this country undocumented or with expired documentation.  Baker noted that many cities have found complying with ICE's demands to be counterproductive and have refused to comply in the past.

There is an unnecessary danger in thrusting ICE enforcement on local police. Traffic stops can become more dangerous when the potential penalty for speeding could be removal from the country and separation from one's family. As Baker recounted:
"Clients contact me after having been pulled over in Danbury for a busted tail light and find themselves in a detention facility in Massachusetts awaiting removal to their home country. There is a crossover between city law enforcement and federal immigration officers that doesn't make sense."
The hope is that this new policy will foster more cooperation between the immigrant community and law enforcement as well as focus resources on the removal of dangerous criminals.  Opponents view it as just another form of amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

Note:  This article was recently picked up and republished on The USBlawg Federal Law Review.

Read the Bill Here: