More than 1,100 undocumented immigrants from the New Haven area were deported over the last two decades, according to new county-level data obtained by researchers.
Since October 2001, almost 4,000 immigrants who said they lived in New Haven County faced deportation proceedings. Of those, roughly 1,120 were deported and another 260 voluntarily left the country. Judges let about 480 off the hook; prosecutors applied their discretion in only 70 cases. Another 420 cases are still pending, while the rest have been dealt with administratively.
Those county-level figures were obtained by nonpartisan researchers at Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which uses the Freedom of Information Act to extract data on the federal government’s enforcement, staffing and spending. TRAC’s team has relentlessly gone after immigration numbers, filing lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
Grouped by county, New Haven’s numbers include surrounding towns like Waterbury, Hamden, Meriden and Milford.
For all Donald Trump’s attacks against immigrants, the number of cases filed against New Haven County residents has actually declined recently. In 2016, immigration agents filed 298 deportation cases — a figure that dropped to 233 in Trump’s first year in office.
The Obama administration filed fewer cases against New Haveners than Trump’s agents so far in only three years: 2011, 2012, and 2015.
Immigrants rights advocates pointed out that New Haven’s decline fits with a national trend. In part, they said, it may be because there’s been a recent drop in border crossings, where many removals occur, and because there’s been a surge in activism, as New Haven’s seen with its rallies and network of sanctuary churches. However, the immigrants who are being targeted seem different from before.
“What is most alarming for us is the increase in 2017 of arrests of those with no criminal histories,” said Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change.
“In New Haven, we have recently defended a hard working mother with a disabled U.S. citizen child, and another with a U.S. citizen son and husband who are beloved members of their community. These were people who were reporting to ICE, as required, on an annual basis, not people who had committed any crimes whatsoever.
“It appears that ICE in the Trump Administration is focused on anyone they can find easily,” she added, “and not people who represent any sort of risk.”
And the number of deportations looks like it’s only set to grow, Matos added.
“This year in New Haven, we have been deluged with emergency cases. Many stem from what were formerly routine yearly visits with ICE where those with no criminal records received deferrals from removal orders. Now, immigrants are often ordered to buy a ticket home within a month — and an ankle bracelet is attached to the person,” she said. “This, coupled with the ramped-up deportation efforts that started last year; the December announcement that ICE would look to increase its [workplace raids] by 400 percent in 2018; the unfettered discretion that ICE officers now have; and, the increase in enforcement budget in the omnibus bill, all add up to nothing short of tragedy for immigrant families and disruption for our communities. What will make the difference is fierce advocacy — not just from immigration advocates, but from public officials, community leaders and decent Americans who are ashamed of what this administration is doing to immigrant families.”
Compared to Connecticut’s other major cities, New Haven saw a much lower volume of deportation cases. Residents of Bridgeport’s Fairfield County had 13,103 cases and Hartford County had 7,803 cases — putting them both in the hundred busiest counties nationwide. New Haven, by contrast, had only 3,999 cases altogether.
And New Haven County residents fared far better before an immigration judge.
Only a quarter — 27.9 percent — of New Haven residents got removal orders kicking them out of the country. Connecticut’s other big counties almost doubled that: 41.5 percent in Fairfield and 51.5 percent in Hartford were deported.
New Haven residents won relief from a judge in 12 percent of cases, again almost double the 7.4 percent for Hartford and 6.3 percent for Fairfield.
Why did Elm City residents do so much better? They were far more likely to have an attorney representing them in court. In total, half of those from New Haven County retained some counsel, while just over a third of Hartford and Fairfield Counties’ residents were able to hire a lawyer.
“Advocacy matters, both in and out of the courtroom,” Matos said. “Not surprisingly people with attorneys and strong advocates fighting on their behalf are much more likely to have positive outcomes. Not only does advocacy strengthen the chances of a good outcome for the person facing deportation proceedings, but from an organizing perspective, cases often help us elevate problems with an immigration system that is outdated and hopelessly broken.”
But unlike in a criminal case, where everyone accused has the right to an attorney, those who land in immigration court have no guarantee they’ll get a lawyer. No federal public defenders represent those who can’t afford it, although some jurisdictions like New York City and Los Angeles are now funding lawyers to fight deportations.
But as the numbers show locally, not having a lawyer makes a huge difference. In the last two decades, only 22 county residents were able to win relief from a judge without a lawyer helping them.
That aligns with the research, said Michael Wishnie, a Yale Law School professor who leads the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, but he also credited another factor that’s making a difference in the Elm City.
“Numerous empirical studies have demonstrated that the presence of counsel has a very significant influence on the outcome of deportation cases,” Wishnie wrote in an email. “In addition, however, community organizations like [Unidad Latina en Acción] and [the Immigrant Bail Fund] deserve much of the credit for the higher success rate for New Haven County residents. The support ULA and IBF have provided to countless men and women facing deportation has been vital to many of the successful outcomes achieved.”
Immigration authorities predominantly swept up New Haven County residents from Central and South America. The most common nationalities were Ecuadorian (680), Guatemalan (452), Mexican (372), Honduran (239), and Brazilian (225). There were also large numbers of immigrants from Albania (173), Jamaica (125) and Turkey (90).
Most hadn’t been living in the United States for long: 38.7 reported they’d been here for shorter than a year.
Nationwide, the largest number of residents caught by immigration authorities reported living in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, Calif.; Harris County, Tex.; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; and Queens County, N.Y.