ICE detention procedures spark CT Capitol debate
HARTFORD — As immigration arrests and removal orders increase across New England, Connecticut lawmakers are considering how much state and local law enforcement should cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
A 2013 state law called the TRUST Act limited the occasions when police and court officials may voluntarily aid Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But that law has loopholes that are creating a prison-to-deportation pipeline, some immigration advocates say.
Legislation proposed by Democrats in the General Assembly would strengthen the TRUST Act by further limiting the information law enforcement can share with ICE. Republicans have filed a competing proposal to increase police collaboration with ICE.
Luis Casanova, assistant chief of the New Haven Police Department, spoke in favor of strengthening the TRUST Act Friday in the state Capitol.
“We are not ICE and we have no interest in doing their work,” he said. “We need to institute strong protections to protect all of our community members. If we don’t, decades of trust-building will be eroded by the actions of a few overzealous law enforcement entities.”
Over the past two decades, more than 1,100 New Haven area residents were deported, according to data from researchers in 2017.
Some ICE arrests outside Bridgeport’s Superior Court in 2018 troubled that city’s police chief chief, who said immigrants were already afraid to work with cops. Bridgeport state Reps. Steve Stafstrom and Chris Rosario, both Democrats, sponsored the legislation to strengthen the existing law.
“Connecticut was a leader in passing the first TRUST Act as way of making sure those living in the state have an opportunity to seek help, to go to police officers when they are victims of crimes, to interact with government without fear of being deported,” said Stafstrom, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which will vote on the bill. “We seek to close that loophole and keep pace with other states who have moved forward with strengthening that TRUST law.”
Democrats, who hold solid majorities in the House and Senate, are also seeking legislation to provide legal counsel to low-income immigrants in removal proceedings. Another priority is a bill to adjust the state’s misdemeanor sentencing guidelines so some low-level crimes would not trigger deportation under federal law, Stafstrom said.
Some Connecticut residents Friday backed the Republican measure to curb the TRUST Act and opposed bills to help immigrants avoid deportation.
“I do not support any taxpayer funds for legal defense or any other financial support for illegal aliens,” testified Cathy Hopperstad of Manchester. “I understand there is conflict and hardship in Latin America and throughout the world, yet we are a sovereign nation and a nation of laws.”
Iva Velickovic, counsel for the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Association, said she hopes a strengthened Trust Act would limit the contact the state’s judicial marshals have with ICE.
A report released by CIRA in February found that from Sept. 2016 to Oct. 2017, judicial marshals detained 50 people until ICE could assume custody.
The report states the marshals are “overzealously” enforcing immigration detainers, and suggested marshals have too much individual discretion on how to interact with ICE.
Among other communications obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, the CIRA report cited this May 2017 message from a judicial marshal to an ICE agent:
“Per my deputy director without a final order of deportation we can not (sic) hold him or directly turn him over,” the marshal said. “However, if you can provide me with an ETA we will stall his release until you are on site.”
Don Murphy, director of judicial marshal services, said marshals do not have discretion; they must have written approval from himself or a deputy director to detain or release an immigrant. The judicial marshals’ policy on ICE cooperation mirrors state statute and was vetted by legal counsel, he said.
“The branch believes it is in compliance with the statute,” he said.
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