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Connecticut Adopts Its Own Standards For Detaining Undocumented Immigrants, Angering Feds

By Gregory B. Hladky

April 03, 2012

Federal immigration enforcers announced this week they'd captured more than 3,100 "convicted criminal aliens" during a six-day sweep, including 32 allegedly bad-ass characters right here in Connecticut.

All of which is very interesting, coming as it does less than a week after Connecticut announced that it's adopting its own standards for deciding whether to detain undocumented immigrants for possible deportation. The timing is particularly curious given that Connecticut's action really pissed off the feds.

Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration declared that it would decide whether or not to respond to requests fromU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that certain immigrants be detained. ICE figures that those "requests" actually amount to orders to hold undocumented immigrants, and the Connecticut action brought some frigid words of warning out of ICE headquarters down inWashington, D.C.

"We expect all jurisdictions to honor our detainers," says ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein.

"ICE anticipates that law enforcement agencies will comply with the detainer though ICE has not sought to compel compliance through legal proceedings," Feinstein said in a prepared statement. "Jurisdictions that ignore detainers bear the risk of possible public safety risks."

And now comes the news of the thousands of ICE arrests across the nation, including at least 1,063 with multiple past criminal convictions. These arrests are happening under a program called "Secure Communities" or S-Comm, which was supposed to target "the worst of the worst" among illegal immigrants, but ended up deporting tens of thousands of immigrants who just came here to work.

"I do find it a bit surprising and a bit coincidental," says Latrina Kelly, director of development for the New Haven-based Junta for Progressive Action.

Kelly says S-Comm was originally intended to focus only on people with serious felony convictions. "If it was being implemented as it should, that would be wonderful," Kelly says.

"As we know, that hasn't happened," she adds, saying immigrant rights groups continue to believe "Secure Communities should be eliminated right now."

These new ICE arrests almost seem to come as a direct response to such criticisms. The news release announcing the results of the enforcement sweep cites a long list of crimes allegedly committed by those picked up, including "murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, terroristic threats, drug trafficking, child abuse, battery on a child, sexual crimes against minors, and aggravated assault."

The policy adopted by Malloy's administration calls for state officials to answer a series of questions to make sure a person the feds want held has done something serious enough to warrant being kept in jail.

Advocates like Hartford City Councilman Luis Cotto call the new Connecticut policy "forward thinking" and are hoping it will serve as an example to be copied. "Hopefully other states can do it," he says.

The S-Comm system provides ICE with fingerprints of suspected undocumented immigrants who may have been picked up by local police on any type of charge. ICE then checks the prints against its own data banks and theoretically asks states or local law enforcement to hold certain people so they can be picked up for possible deportation.

Many law enforcement officials and civil rights activists warn the program effectively turns local cops into de facto ICE agents in the eyes of the immigrant community. The result, they say, is that immigrants become afraid to cooperate with police, report crimes or even act as witnesses.

S-Comm has been in effect for Fairfield County since 2010, but didn't go statewide until about three weeks ago. Michael Lawlor, Malloy's top criminal justice advisor, says there have only been less than 10 ICE detainer requests since S-Comm went statewide and all have been complied with.

The new policy is scheduled to take effect on April 16. Lawlor says that's to give state officials time to train personnel in how to apply the new standards, which are intended to determine if the person involved is really a serious criminal and should be detained.

A federal lawsuit challenging the legality of these detainer requests has been filed by the Worker and Immigration Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School.

So far, Connecticut is the only state to adopt its own policy for when it will or won't comply with those ICE requests.

"ICE is not happy about it," one Connecticut official says privately. After word reached Washington about the new state policy, Malloy administration officials got some polite calls from Homeland Security types offering to answer any questions Connecticut might have on the matter.

S-Comm, which was begun underPresidentGeorge W. Bush, has become a centerpiece of the Obama Administration's highly criticized and often inconsistent immigration policy.

A few other jurisdictions, most notably Cook County in Illinois, have already refused to comply with all ICE detainer requests.

In February, there were reports out of Illinois that Cook County had ignored ICE detainers and released 346 inmates from jail, only to find that 11 of them were later re-arrested on charges that included drunk driving, theft and drug possession.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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