The mayor issued an urgent appeal to put the brakes on a new enforcement program, as New Haven’s immigrant-friendly policies headed for another collision course with the federal government.
At a noon press conference Monday in City Hall, Mayor John DeStefano (pictured) issued the public plea to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to delay the implementation of its “Secure Communities” program in Connecticut.
The program, set to start statewide on Wednesday, requires the FBI to share with ICE fingerprint information it receives when local police make any arrest. ICE can then issue an administrative request asking the arrestee to be detained for further investigation by ICE.
ICE says Secure Communities is designed to deport dangerous and violent convicted criminals who are in the country illegally. But a September 2011 Homeland Security report on the program, which is already in place in various parts of the country, found that it has resulted in the deportation of minor offenders who were never convicted of a crime. It also found the program may have a bad effect on community policing, which New Haven is trying to rev back up.
Mayor DeStefano and other speakers at Monday’s press conference said the program leads to racial profiling, a breakdown of trust between police and their community, and unlawful detention practices that could violate the U.S. Constitution. The program also amounts to a violation of New Haven’s general order that prohibits police from asking arrestees about their immigration status. The cumulative effect is to make the city less—not more—safe, the mayor said.
The September Homeland Security report includes specific recommendations on how to improve Secure Communities. (Read it here.) Mayor DeStefano Monday called on ICE to implement those changes before implementing the program in Connecticut.
If ICE does go forward with the plan, DeStefano called on Gov. Dannel Malloy to create a system for participation which clearly distinguishes between low-level offenders and serious criminals.
Mike Lawlor, the state’s Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, said “it’s hard to make bright lines” between various circumstances under which someone would be held or released. The decision will have to be made case by case, as a balance between what the person was arrested for and whatever other conditions may be present, Lawlor said. “Maybe you’re on a terrorist list. Maybe you’re a drug runner from wherever.”
The governor has asked Department of Corrections Commissioner Leo Arnone to “create an ongoing review of how this program is implemented and what the ramifications are, and see what if any corrective action is needed going forward,” Lawlor said in a press release.
But Lawlor said the program is one between ICE and the FBI, not something the state can simply opt out of. “All we can do is react to it.”
The state comes in at the point where ICE issues a request for an arrestee to be held beyond when the state would otherwise release him. Whether or not to abide by such requests will be up to Commissioner Arnone, Lawlor said.
For the second time in five years, “the federal Department of Homeland Security has made New Haven less safe,” DeStefano said Monday. In 2007, ICE agents swept into Fair Haven and rounded up about 30 people. At that time, the stated rationale for the raids was a crack down on violent offenders. But events since then have shown that ICE was picking up people mainly because of the color of their skin, DeStefano said.
Like the 2007 raids, Secure Communities could be a tool for racial discrimination, disrupting families and eroding trust between communities and cops, DeStefano said.
“You would think we have had enough in southern Connecticut of criminal justice agencies that racially target significant parts of our communities for no good reason,” DeStefano said.
Jessica Vosburgh (pictured), a Yale law school student in an immigration law clinic, said a study of the implementation of Secure Communities in Fairfield County—where it has been in place since June of 2010—found that 71 percent of the people deported as a result were first-time offenders or guilty only of very minor crimes, like shoplifting.
Michael Wishnie, the Yale professor in charge of the clinic, said Secure Communities may violate the constitution by calling for the unlawful detention of people. He said the clinic is waiting to see what the governor does before it decides whether to make a constitutional challenge of the program.
Several others spoke out against the program at Monday’s event, including State Rep. Juan Candelaria, Alderwomen Migdalia Castro and Dolores Colon, JUNTA head Latrina Kelly, and Angel Fernandez of St. Rose of Lima church in Fair Haven.
Police Chief Dean Esserman (pictured) said he speaks for the majority of police chiefs, who were asked their opinion on the program, when he said that Secure Communities “does not help our jobs ... This is not good for the work we do.”
Lawlor, the state undersecretary, agreed that Secure Communities has been shown to be problematic—by the Homeland Security report. That’s why the state will be looking closely at how ICE proceeds in Connecticut, he said.
ICE could not be reached for comment.