A highly controversial federal immigration deportation program called Secure Communities is about to go statewide in Connecticut, and the prospect has state officials warning they may not go along with everything the feds want to do.

S-Comm, as it’s called, is now in effect only for communities in Fairfield County. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials planned to expand to the rest of Connecticut last September but apparently backed off after protests from Gov. Dannel Malloy and city officials from New Haven, Hartford and other municipalities.

Now, ICE has notified state and local officials that S-Comm will be put into effect throughout Connecticut as of Wednesday.

Malloy’s administration sounds less than thrilled, indicating it would review federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants “on a case-by-case basis.”

“While we are very mindful of the need to enhance public safety, there are legitimate concerns when it comes to the implementation of the Secure Communities program,” Mike Lawlor, Malloy’s top criminal justice aide, said in a prepared statement.

“What this program does is it essentially converts local law enforcement officers into de facto agents of [ICE],” Lawlor said. “The Governor shares the opinion of many police chiefs that this policy could lead to a situation where victims and witnesses in the immigrant community would be reluctant to cooperate with local and state police,” according to Lawlor.

S-Comm was created to deport the “worst of the worst” among illegal immigrants. Theoretically, suspected criminal immigrants picked up by local police would checked against ICE records and, if they were in this country illegally, would then be detained for ICE and deported back to their home countries.

But immigration activists and civil rights groups argue the program has resulted in tens of thousands of basically law-abiding undocumented immigrants being deported. They say people who became involved in things as minor as fender benders or simply being an accident victim or witness have been sent out of the country.
A Yale Law School review of the 133 people deported from Fairfield County under Secure Communities found that 71 percent didn’t fit that “worst of the worst” description because they had no serious criminal record.

A recent federal task force review of S-Comm was critical of the way the program was handled and resulted in new directives to field agents that deportation detentions and actions should only be taken “specifically against individuals who pose a threat to public safety…”

According to Lawlor, Connecticut state and local police departments were notified late last week through a low-key email sent to lower-level officers that S-Comm would go statewide on Wednesday. Lawlor said top state officials only found out about the email after they were called by immigration activists who'd gotten word the ICE was ready expand the program here.

In his statement, Lawlor said the governor has directed state Corrections Commissioner Leo Arnone to review all ICE requests for detention of undocumented immigrants and to decide which of those to act upon. Arnone is also charged with deciding if any “corrective action” is needed in the S-Comm program.