(Updated 1:42 p.m.) WIth the help of Yale law students, Sergio Brizuela has won a legal victory that means fewer immigrants like him will be handed over to the feds.
Local immigrant rights activists planned to announce that news at a press conference Tuesday morning at Junta for Progressive Action on Grand Avenue in Fair Haven.
The legal victory comes in the case of Brizuela v. Feliciano. Brizuela, a 33-year-old East Haven man originally from Argentina, sued Whalley Avenue jail Warden Jose Feliciano and Department of Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone after he was held on an “immigration detainer” request from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in February 2012.
One year later, that case has been settled with an agreement that the state Department of Correction (DOC) will review ICE detainer requests on a case-by-case basis for four years. The agreement is an extension of a pilot DOC policy that has been in place for several months, following an order by Gov. Dannel Malloy.
The case-by-case review policy required by the settlement of Brizuela’s case will mean fewer people will be turned over to ICE, Yale law students stated in a release.
The pilot policy has resulted in a 70 percent drop in the number of Connecticut residents turned over to ICE, down from 33 per month to fewer than 10 per month, according to the students.
The settlement is a victory for activists who have been pushing back against an ICE program called “Secure Communities,” under which ICE can ask local law enforcement to hold people for investigation for immigration violations when they are picked up on unrelated charges.
ICE has said that Secure Communities is a way to catch dangerous undocumented immigrant offenders, people who pose a serious threat to public safety. Critics of the program say the program is overly broad, undermines relations between immigrants and police, and results in disproportionate consequences for people arrested on minor charges with little or no criminal history.
Brizuela was arrested on Nov. 20, 2011 by East Haven police, on charges of breach of peace, interfering with an officer, and driving with a suspended license. His only previous criminal record was paying $150 fine for a motor vehicle violation.
Brizuela ultimately pleaded to misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to 30 days in jail on Feb. 10, 2012. He had already been held in jail for several months, unable to post bond.
Brizuela, who is married to a lawful permanent U.S. resident and is the father of U.S. citizen, was then turned over to ICE on an immigration detainer. With the help of Yale law students, he filed a federal habeas corpus petition, arguing that he was being unlawfully detained.
As a result of an April 2012 order by Gov. Malloy, DOC started a pilot policy of reviewing immigrant detainer requests on a case-by-case basis. Previously, DOC policy had been to honor all ICE requests.
The new policy requires DOC staff to fill out a checklist when they receive an immigration detainer request from ICE. If the person in question does not meet the criteria on the list—he is already subject to removal, he’s a gang member or in an anti-terrorism database, he’s been convicted of a felony—he is released, said Yale law student Travis Silva.
The settlement also requires DOC to notify people in its custody when they are the subject of an ICE detainer request, and give them a toll-free number they can call if they feel they are being wrongfully detained. The DOC is also required to provide monthly reports on all inmates detained under the policy. The settlement includes enforcement mechanisms if the DOC does not comply with its terms.
Mike Lawlor, the Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, hailed the settlement as a sign of the success of Malloy’s order in April.
“Basically what the governor ordered to happen in April is now the settlement,” he said. “It’s worth noting that ICE itself has essentially adopted the Connecticut plan as their national protocol, with a couple of exceptions. ... They do continue to still treat people arrested as drunk drivers as serious threats to national security.”
The new policy does not cover people like Josemaria Islas, the New Haven man who was turned over to ICE by judicial marshals. Marshals are not DOC employees, but come under the State Judicial Branch.
Lawlor said judicial marshals have agreed to a plan under which they will not turn people over to ICE on detainer requests, but hand them over to DOC instead, which will run through its checklist. Lawlor said that if that agreement is not yet formalized, it will be shortly.
In the meantime, Lawlor said, everyone is hoping the U.S. Congress will fix the immigration system.
Although Brizuela is no longer detained, he faces an ongoing immigration case. Islas is due in court on Thursday as ICE continues to seek his deportation.
On Tuesday, ICE released a statement on Secure Communities. It reads, in part:
“Over the past four years, ICE has dramatically changed the way it conducts immigration enforcement. ICE implemented clear priorities, enhanced the use of prosecutorial discretion, and implemented a sustained focus on the identification and removal of criminal aliens and other priority individuals. Secure Communities has proven to be the single most valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach of the past and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators. ...
“... Overall, in fiscal year (FY) 2012, ICE removed 409,849 individuals nationwide. Of these, approximately 55 percent, or 225,390 of the people removed, were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors – almost double the removal of criminals in FY 2008. This includes 1,215 aliens convicted of homicide; 5,557 aliens convicted of sexual offenses; 40,448 aliens convicted for crimes involving drugs; and 36,166 aliens convicted for driving under the influence. ...
“To further focus ICE resources on the most serious criminal offenders, the agency issued new national detainer guidance in December 2012. This guidance limits the use of detainers to individuals who meet the department’s enforcement priorities and restricts the use of detainers against individuals arrested for minor misdemeanor offenses such as traffic offenses and other petty crimes, helping to ensure that available resources are focused on apprehending felons, repeat offenders and other ICE priorities. It is applicable to all ICE enforcement programs nationwide.”