Connecticut Takes First Steps to Save Immigrant Community Relationship with Law Enforcement

Connecticut Takes First Steps to Save Immigrant Community Relationship with Law Enforcement

Hartford— The state legislature’s Joint Committee on Judiciary today took a step toward greater trust between Connecticut’s immigrant communities and local law enforcement, hearing testimony on the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act, a law that would set a standard implementation of the federal Secure Communities program by all state agencies.

The Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, primary advocates for the bill, supports the law as it aims to repair the devastating effects of the Secure Communities program on the immigrant community in Connecticut because of its current flawed interpretation.

The TRUST Act would allow local governments to submit to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s request to detain an individual only if they have a serious or violent felony conviction, the law’s intended purpose, while helping restore the trust that has been lost between local law enforcement and the community.

CIRA members who testified at the hearing today highlighted the key safeguards against profiling and the wrongful detention of citizens that are included in the proposed bill:

Kurt Westby, vice president and Connecticut state director of 32BJ SEIU, the largest union of property service workers in the country, said, “State and local law enforcement resources need not be misspent on immigration enforcement activities that target working people and undermine community relations. Entire communities suffer when immigrants are arbitrarily swept into detention and deportation proceedings. The consensus among economists is that immigrants as consumers grow local economies and create jobs.”

“The Department of Corrections in Connecticut has recognized the need to protect its residents by implementing protocols that limit compliance with the Secure Communities program,” said Ana María Rivera-Forastieri, legal and policy analyst at Junta for Progressive Action. “It is time that all law enforcement in Connecticut follows their lead.”

Executive director of the Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission (APAAC) Mui Mui Hin-McCormick stated, “APAAC supports the Trust Act which is working towards improving our current system that hurts Connecticut residents who are contributing positively to Connecticut on all levels, such as economically, academically, and culturally. This issue has brought our diverse communities together striving for justice regarding fair treatment for all human beings, stressing the importance of keeping families together.”

In Connecticut, there is no uniform standard for participating in the Secure Communities program; each police department establishes its own response to ICE detainer requests. The question of jurisdictional interpretation of the program has lacked a clear and consistent answer from ICE before Congress, the media and local officials. The confusion has resulted in a contradictory implementation, many times unjust to law-abiding immigrants.

“Secure Communities co-opts local police for the purposes of immigration enforcement, undermining local values and contributing to racial profiling, as police have incentive to pick up people who they may not intend to charge,” said Nadia Kayyali, legal fellow at Bill of Rights Defense Committee. “It creates two alternate systems of justice—one for immigrants and one for everyone else, as immigrants are held and deported without ever being charged or tried for crimes they are ostensibly picked up for. What’s more, citizens have been detained and deported under S-Comm and more than one-third (39%) of individuals arrested through S-Comm report that they have a documented spouse or child, meaning that approximately 88,000 families with documented members have been impacted by the wrongful interpretation of S-Comm.”

The primary sponsor of the bill, State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield, identifies with the immigrant community’s growing distrust of law enforcement. “Having grown up in a community where police were not trusted, I understand that the community is not safer when it is unable to interact with the police.  Having protocols in place such as set forth in this bill makes communities safer, is cost effective and shift the responsibility for immigration back where it belongs with our federal government,” Holder-Winfield said.

Local elected officials are lining up behind the measure:

“Passage of this bill would allow us to join other jurisdictions, including California, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and New York City in repairing a broken system and prove that we, municipal and state leaders, understand the role, importance and influence that immigrant families have had on the development of Hartford—Connecticut’s Capital City—and the great State of Connecticut,” said Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Hartford Police Department Chief James E. Rovella.

Lieutenant Holly Wasilewski of the New Haven Police Department added, “Last year the Secure Communities or “S-Comm” Program went live in Connecticut, undermining the efforts we had made and creating fear in much of the immigrant community. The S-Comm program has only created barriers between residents and police. We urge passage of HB 6659 which will go a long way toward restoring trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.”

Records show only 27% of persons removed from the country through the program have committed serious criminal offenses. Out of the 331 people deported from Connecticut in 2012, 268 either had no conviction or were accused of only a minor offense.

“New Haven is a welcoming and open community, and we are at our best when we provide opportunities for economic and social mobility for all families,” said John DeStefano, Jr., mayor of New Haven. “S-Comm runs counter to what we value as a community: it divides families when we are working to keep them together; it creates barriers between law enforcement and residents when we are working to build trust; it creates fear when we are looking to build hope.”

The Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance is a statewide coalition of immigrant, faith, labor, youth, community, business and ally organizations founded to improve the lives of Connecticut’s diverse immigrant community. We seek to strengthen family unity through the pursuit of social justice and civil liberties. We achieve this mission through non-partisan civic engagement, public education, and advocating for workable, fair and humane immigration policies.

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