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State Immigration Activists Call For Moratorium on Deportations


February 27, 2013

HARTFORD —— A new coalition of activists, labor leaders and undocumented immigrants stood in the state Legislative Office Building on Tuesday and asked for public support in reforming an immigration system that they argue is broken and cruel to families.

Members of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance also demanded a moratorium on deportations and announced rallies on April 9 in Bridgeport, Danbury and New Haven. They plan a major march in Hartford April 10, a national day of action that will include activists across the country descending on Washington to inject their voice in the immigration debate.

President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of senators have each described frameworks that would allow a pathway to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

"I am confident that Connecticut can be a leader in the road toward guaranteeing comprehensive immigration reform," said Ana Maria Rivera, a legal and policy analyst for the New Haven-based Junta for Progressive Action.

"We're here to work ... We don't steal from anyone," Patricia Rosas, 43, of New Britain said in Spanish. She has lived illegally in the United States for more than two decades.

"We didn't take work from anyone," added Graciela Paredes, 35, a single mother who also lives in New Britain.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has deported undocumented immigrants at an unprecedented rate under the Obama administration, including those who have not committed serious crimes, activists said. The American Immigration Council, an advocacy group, has estimated that 204,810 parents of U.S.-born children were deported between July 2010 and Sept. 2012.

Facing automatic budget cuts, the federal agency announced Tuesday that it had released "several hundred" undocumented immigrants from detention centers in recent days, although they still face deportation proceedings, according to the Associated Press.

Activists from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said in a conference call earlier Tuesday that they have received reports of detained immigrants being released in Florida, Arizona, Texas, New Jersey, New York and New Orleans. Connecticut does not have a federal immigration detention center; there are three in Massachusetts.

State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, has introduced a bill called the CT Trust Act that would allow police departments to ignore a key part of ICE's "Secure Communities" program, which has received state scrutiny because it orders local law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours even if they would have normally been released.

Last spring, Malloy ordered the Connecticut Department of Corrections and state police to disregard the 48-hour order except for serious offenders, such as convicted felons and known gang members.

Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, said at Tuesday's press conference that "there have been no problems reported. There have been people who have been arrested on very minor charges, and ICE did issue detainers for those people, and those detainers were not honored. They were released."

But local police departments and judicial marshals in state courthouses are still required to follow the ICE policy, which Holder-Winfield argued is a burden on resources and makes communities "less secure" because undocumented immigrants will be afraid to cooperate with police, even if they are victims or witnesses to a crime.

"They are afraid they might be deported," Lawlor said.

Both Lawlor and Holder-Winfield mentioned the case of Jose Maria Islas, a 35-year-old undocumented immigrant whose deportation was ordered last Thursday in a Hartford immigration court. Islas, a New Haven resident, was arrested in July 2012 and accused of trying to rob a man of his bike in Hamden.

Islas and his supporters said Tuesday that the felony charge of conspiracy to commit robbery was ultimately dismissed — police were looking for a Latino and arrested Islas while he was out on a lunch break from his factory job — although ICE still wants Islas returned to his native Mexico. Authorities said Islas was charged with two misdemeanors after the original felony count was dropped.

Ross Feinstein, an ICE spokesman, described Islas as "a priority for removal," in part because he has repeatedly entered the U.S. without permission, including four short-lived attempts in August and Sept. 2005.

Regarding the Hamden criminal case, Feinstein noted that Islas entered the state's accelerated rehabilitation program, which clears charges from a defendant's record if successfully completed. Islas said he did not plead guilty to the misdemeanors and had complied with the program.

"ICE has adopted common sense policies nationwide that ensure our immigration laws are enforced in a way that best enhances public safety, border security and the integrity of the immigration system," Feinstein said in a statement. "As part of this approach, ICE has adopted clear priorities that call for the agency's enforcement resources to be focused on the identification and removal of those that have broken criminal laws, recently crossed our border, or repeatedly violated immigration laws."

Unidad Latina en Acción, an advocacy group in New Haven, is calling on federal authorities to use discretion and rescind the deportation. Megan Fountain, a Unidad volunteer, said she and three other Islas supporters were arrested and cited with disorderly conduct for a nonviolent protest at the Hartford federal courthouse Thursday.

State Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said he wants Democrats and Republicans to enable a pathway to citizenship. On grounds of "fairness," Hwang said, he voted against a 2011 bill that allowed undocumented students who graduated from Connecticut high schools to pay in-state college tuition.

But Hwang, who was born in Taiwan and received his American citizenship when he was 8 1/2 years old, said Tuesday that "I hate the idea that deportation breaks up families."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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