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The Wrong Arm Of The Law

Why Hartford Police Shouldn't Be Rounding Up Illegal Immigrants


November 18, 2007

Hartford's failure to have a clear policy concerning the role of city police in enforcing federal immigration laws is compromising officials' ability to ensure public safety and maintain good relations with all residents. The city should establish such a policy soon.

More than 68 municipal and state governments in the United States have enacted policies, resolutions or ordinances rejecting the expansion of local law enforcement duties to include federal immigration laws.

All residents, in other words, will be treated the same by local police. Under these policies, police investigating crimes and talking to witnesses do not concern themselves with residents' immigration status.

So far, Hartford has no policy at all. The need for one was highlighted by the early-morning raids that were recently carried out in the city's Parkville neighborhood by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in collaboration with Hartford police.

Although the supposed purpose of the ICE-police collaboration was to find and apprehend a suspected felon, at least 21 undocumented immigrants, mostly Brazilian and none with outstanding criminal warrants, were detained as a result of the investigation.

As local police fanned out through the Parkville community asking for help in finding the suspect, federal agents used the search as a pretext for conducting raids on their own targets.

Brazilian residents across Parkville began to fear that they would be swept up in the raids, despite having nothing to do with the criminal investigation. The thriving community suddenly placed itself under house arrest, leaving some neighborhood businesses struggling to find customers.

The absence of any policy about police conduct toward immigrants allows for loosely defined discretionary tactics that serve neither the city's police department nor its residents.

Later, at a meeting that was intended to quell the community's fears, Hartford Police Chief Daryl Roberts did anything but that when he attempted to summarize his department's default protocol for dealing with the immigration status of people with whom his officers interact.

"We normally don't (ask for immigration status), but it doesn't mean we can't," he said.

Chief Roberts described his policy as "discretion." Police officers would ask when they felt it was appropriate to do so. Efforts to discover when it was appropriate or why were met with a reiteration of the magic word, "discretion."

As the U.S. unleashes on our populace the experiment that ICE refers to as its Endgame, which is aimed at removing all undocumented immigrants by 2012, municipalities are forced to react to the demands put on local police by federal authorities.

Some, like Danbury, roll out the red carpet for ICE, even including local police officers in sting operations against day laborers.

On Long Island, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey recently announced that they would refuse to cooperate with ICE following seriously botched operations by dozens of ICE agents. Mulvey, who criticized the "cowboy mentality" at ICE, later modified his position to say that he would review every request and assist only when the operation was consistent with his department's mission.

In New Haven, Mayor John DeStefano issued an executive order last December establishing his police department's policy and procedures concerning citizenship status, enforcement of federal immigration laws and the disclosure of confidential information. In essence, DeStefano's order bars police from inquiring about immigration status and limits their collaboration with ICE to that which is mandated by federal law.

New Haven's clear policy was lauded by the city's police department and by community activists as a smart extension of community policing. Both have pointed out that when immigrants who might not have proper documentation are afraid to report a crime or to cooperate with the police in providing information about criminal activities, it's public safety that suffers.

Indeed, even federal law provides for limited circumstances where an undocumented immigrant can qualify for a special visa by assisting law enforcement in its investigation of certain serious crimes.

Building trust between local police departments and immigrant communities is just good sense. Loosely defined "discretionary" tactics have the exact opposite effect.

Chief Roberts and Mayor Eddie Perez, whose community policing strategies rely on a trustworthy relationship with residents, can't possibly be for that.

In a city where the population represents a wide array of ethnic communities, Hartford needs to jump to the forefront of this national debate and adopt comprehensive immigrant policy now.

Luis Edgardo Cotto is a Hartford city councilman-elect. Peter Goselin is a regional co-vice president of the National Lawyers Guild.

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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