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Lawsuit Spurs New Deportation Policy

Ice Will Hold Off If Targets Are Part Of Civil Rights Actions, Labor Complaints

By Mark Spencer

July 03, 2011

A civil rights lawsuit brought by an undocumented immigrant in Connecticut facing deportation has prompted federal officials to adopt a new policy that will have a national impact.

Washington Colala was just days from being deported to Ecuador in December when federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials reversed an earlier decision and let him stay to pursue a civil rights lawsuit concerning controversial ICE raids in New Haven in 2007.

While seeking a deportation delay for Colala, his attorneys and other immigration advocates also asked ICE to avoid deporting any undocumented immigrant involved in a civil right lawsuit or a labor complaint.

In a letter sent earlier this month to field offices and agents, ICE Director John Morton said that, absent special circumstances, it is "against ICE policy to remove individuals in the midst of a legitimate effort to protect their civil rights or civil liberties."

Colala is both a plaintiff and key witness in the civil rights lawsuit pending in federal court in Bridgeport, said his attorney, Michael Wishnie, a Yale Law School professor with the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization. He said it would have been nearly impossible for Colala to be a part of the suit had he been deported.

Yale lawyers were joined by representatives of immigrants' rights groups, labor unions and faith-based organizations in pushing ICE to adopt the policy. The new policy is similar to ICE rules that discourage the deportation of immigrants who are victims or witnesses in criminal cases.

"We believe people who have a civil rights claim should be able to meaningfully participate and have their voices heard," said Laura Vazquez, an immigration legislative analyst with the National Council of La Raza in Washington.

Colala was among 32 immigrants detained in ICE raids in New Haven in June 2007. Some advocates thought the raids were retaliation for New Haven adopting a resident identification card system, which was available to undocumented immigrants.

Yale lawyers represented 17 of those detained in federal immigration court and five of the cases have been dismissed because of constitutional problems with how the raids were conducted. Some of the immigrants have since become legal, while other cases remain in court.

Ten of the immigrants, including Colala, filed the civil rights lawsuit.

"They're harming people who really don't do any damage," Colala said through an interpreter. "We're just people who are working hard to support our 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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