City Pushes Back Against Feds On Immigration

Thomas MacMillan PhotoThe 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.

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posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 20, 2012  8:52pm

ok I agree in part. This needs to be done better. I do believe that without the undocumented people trusting police crime can grow quietly. And this was my main reason for supporting the ID card.
With that said. I personally want criminals deported. If you came here illegally or your legal way has expired so you are flying low. DO NOT COMMIT CRIMES! If you do goodby! Let the people that are respecting the place they live stay and become part of our country and our city. But if you are robbing mugging rapping or selling drugs, you in know way should be out running around and I do not want my tax dollars paying to jail you. But if you do something stupid, drive without a license, run a red light, public drinking…something lame. I do not think you should be ripped from your family. A fast track is needed. BUT a fast track can be abused to! By who…politicians! So that is a tangled web that will not happen any time soon. But in the mean time all need to be safe. And I for one want the criminals sent home! Ok hit me with your best shot for this one. :)

posted by: Stan Muzyk on February 20, 2012  9:08pm

Inaction on our immigration problem by the Pres. Obama administration, has pushed this problem on states, and cities like New Haven to cope with this costly demise. ICE has been deporting good, hardworking immigrants overall, not crimnals.  They have taken people off of their jobs, and deported them.  I agree with Mayor DeStefano, in asking for a delay in the implemtation of the “Secure Communities” program in Connecticut.

posted by: HhE on February 20, 2012  10:11pm

As a 16th generation American, I am so NOT okay with Secure Communities.  I do not have a problem deporting serious criminals, and I do know that serous criminals some times get caught because of little things (Son of Sam’s parking ticket).  However, fear of the Police does not promote cooperation with the police.  Ask anyone from China, where even their own government stays well clear of the police.  I opine that “Let none live in fear” may be the best motto on the side of a blue and white—even better than Wallingford’s “Our best effort needs your help.”

posted by: Stephen Harris on February 21, 2012  8:58am

Here’s a link to study Berkeley did in October 2011 that revealed there are serious problems that need to be corrected.

I think the selective deportation of violent offenders is a good approach (we can’t deport all 10 million or so illegal immigrants), but that the program, in practice, has fallen off the rails.

posted by: dhardy on February 21, 2012  12:53pm

America is having growing pains. Our immigration policies are suffering from a lack of attention for many many years, and it’s a more complex problem than most people realize. There are a lot of economics at stake. But there’s also a lot of misinformation floating around and kudos to the NHI for continuing to report on this stuff, because a lot of people are looking at New Haven from outside of Connecticut.

I’d also like to point out that the Obama administration seems to get a lot of criticism about its immigration policy from the anti-immigration folks, but there’s a “disconnect” in the criticism. News reports say the Obama administration has been deporting people in record numbers.

You can’t hate your cake and deport it, too.

posted by: streever on February 21, 2012  3:34pm

I share some of CHR’s feelings on this.

I do believe that serious criminals—drug dealers, violent offenders, people who commit serious crimes with automobiles—should be deported if caught.

Not on some high moral ground, but a practical one—an undocumented person is exactly that, undocumented. It makes it much harder to investigate and solve a crime when the individual committing said crime may have no identity or history.

I don’t want to give ICE authority to do the immigration policing equivalent of stop and frisk, however. Our current immigration policies are broken, and need serious revision. Blanket arresting everyone with an accent is not going to fix that, but neither will entirely ignoring the issue on a city by city basis.

When caught, I do think that violent criminals should be deported if undocumented. It is a shame that this is being treated as a simple yes/no issue, and not being appreciated as a complex problem with no easy solution.

posted by: HhE on February 21, 2012  4:54pm

Well said streever, and welcome back.  (I’m think of just hiring you to write my posts—you usually do such a better job.)

I think one of the many real downsides of our digital age is the 1/0, on/off, all in/fold mindset in produces.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on February 21, 2012  8:46pm

If you have a real interest of what is going on with this ICE actions. please take real information about the atrocities that really are happening with these people and ask your self if this is what an American believe and support. This video is one of the most real and well done I have seeing lately.

posted by: GeeLow on February 22, 2012  10:26am

The government has failed for over 40 years with regards to immigration. I do think the US should deport all felony illegal immigrants and tax all illegal immigrants, and allow all law abiding illegal immigrants to stay and pay taxes