By Gregory B. Hladky
5:42 PM EDT, March 28, 2012
Connecticut now has it’s own standards for deciding whether to detain undocumented immigrants for possible deportation, and it’s a policy that could set up direct conflicts with some unhappy federal bureaucrats.
Immigration advocates are cheering the move, but it’s bringing some cold-assed words of warning out of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) headquarters down inWashington, D.C.
What’s rubbing the feds raw is that Connecticut will no longer automatically agree to an ICE “detainer” request that an immigrant who was picked up on some charge by police in this state be held for ICE agents to take away.
“We expect all jurisdictions to honor our detainers,” says ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein.
“ICE anticipates that law enforcement agencies will comply with the detainer though ICE has not sought to compel compliance through legal proceedings,” Feinstein said in a prepared statement. “Jurisdiction that ignore detainers bear the risk of possible public safety risks.”
The policy adopted by Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration calls for state officials to answer a series of questions to make sure a person the feds want held has done something serious enough to warrant being kept in jail.
Advocates like Hartford City Councilman Luis Cotto call the new Connecticut policy “forward thinking” and are hoping it will serve as an example to be copied. “Hopefully other states… can do it,” he says.
At issue is the whole thrust of the federal “Secure Communities” or S-Comm program. The system provides ICE with fingerprints of suspected undocumented immigrants who may have been picked up by local police on any type of charge. ICE then checks the prints against its own data banks and theoretically asks states or local law enforcement to hold certain people so they can be picked up for possible deportation.
The feds claim the program is designed to target seriously nasty criminals who are in this country illegally. Critics cites studies showing tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants have been deported under S-Comm even though they committed no serious crimes at all.
Many law enforcement officials and civil rights activists warn the program effectively turns local cops into de facto ICE agents in the eyes of the immigrant community. The result, they say, is that immigrants become afraid to cooperate with police, report crimes or even act as witnesses.
S-Comm has been in effect for Fairfield County since 2010, but didn’t go statewide until about three weeks ago. Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s top criminal justice advisor, says there have only been less than 10 ICE detainer requests since S-Comm went statewide and all have been complied with.
The new policy is scheduled to take effect on April 16. Lawlor says that’s to give state officials time to train personnel in how to apply the new standards, which are intended to determine if the person involved is really a serious criminal.
According to Lawlor, these ICE requests are just that – requests that state officials can decide to accept or reject. The feds argue that national immigration regulations give them the power to ask that state and local authorities hold someone for possible deportation as a public safety issue.
A federal lawsuit challenging the legality of these detainers has been filed by the Worker and Immigration Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School.
So far, Connecticut is the only state to adopt its own policy for when it will or won’t comply with those ICE requests.
“ICE is not happy about it,” one Connecticut official says privately. After word reached Washington about the new state policy, Malloy administration officials got some polite calls from Homeland Security types offering to answer any questions Connecticut might have on the matter.
It’s not hard to guess that all this concern is because the feds are afraid other states will follow Connecticut’s lead, which could put the whole S-Comm gig in limbo. Massachusetts and New York have already asked ICE to halt the programs in their states, only to be told that this isn’t really a voluntary deal as the state were first told.
S-Comm, which was begun underPresident George W. Bush, has become a centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s highly criticized and often inconsistent immigration policy.
A few other jurisdictions, most notably Cook County in Illinois, have already refused to comply with all ICE detainer requests.
In February, there were reports out of Illinois that Cook County had ignored ICE detainers and released 346 inmates from jail, only to find that 11 of them were later re-arrested on charges that included drunk driving, theft and drug possession.
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