By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ A new law in Connecticut sets limits on turning over immigrants to federal authorities for possible deportation, making the state the first in the nation to pass such a measure, advocates said.
Connecticut authorities will honor requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain only immigrants who have felony convictions, belong to gangs, show up on terrorist watch lists, are subject to deportation orders or meet other safety risks. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office announced Wednesday he had signed the law, which says immigration officials will be notified of decisions on whether to detain or release people.
Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said: “Clearly it establishes the principle that the state of Connecticut should not be acting upon ICE detainer requests for people who have not committed a serious crime.”
Supporters say Connecticut is the first state to adopt such a law since a federal program sharing arrestee fingerprints with immigration authorities was enacted. They say the law was needed to ensure immigrants cooperate with police without fear they will be turned over to immigration authorities when they haven’t been convicted of crimes or are facing minor charges.
ICE officials say the agency focuses on convicted criminals and other public safety threats and the federal government sets the priorities.
At issue is Secure Communities, a federal initiative in which arrestee fingerprints are shared with ICE and checked against FBI criminal history and immigration records. If an irregularity is found, a hold is placed on a person, usually leading to deportation.
The program was activated in Fairfield County in June 2010 and statewide last year. A total of 474 people have been deported from Connecticut under Secure Communities, including 300 convicted criminals, according to ICE.
Malloy’s administration has expressed concerns that non-serious offenders were being caught up in the program and enacted a policy last year through the state Department of Correction placing limits on when it would honor immigration detainer requests and reached a legal settlement to keep that policy in place. The new law, experts say, extends the policy to local police departments.
“It means Connecticut has held ICE to its rhetoric about Secure Communities and forced ICE to actually target only serious offenders rather than ICE saying it targets only serious offenders in Secure Communities while in practice it sweeps up all manner of person including non-offenders and minor offenders,” said Yale Law School professor Michael Wishnie, who was involved in the legal settlement and was among those who said Connecticut was the first to enact such a law on a statewide basis.
The state turned 33 people over to ICE each month in 2011, immigrant advocates say. Since case by case assessments took effect, the number dropped to an average of fewer than 10 per month, according to the Yale law group that reached the settlement.
Proponents of the law cite the case of a Mexican immigrant Josemaria Islas, of New Haven, who was arrested last year on charges that he tried to steal a bicycle. His lawyers said he was wrongfully arrested and the charges later were reduced to misdemeanors, but instead of being released, Islas was turned over to federal agents at the request of ICE and his case is pending before the Board of Immigration Appeal.
ICE has said Islas is a priority for removal from the country because he has broken immigration laws repeatedly. Islas’ supporters disputed he was previously deported and say he shouldn’t be deported.
Islas’ attorney Danielle Robinson Briand said the law will help many other immigrants who “have inadvertently gotten into the criminal justice system and who have not been convicted of crimes from their lives being further destroyed by the removal process.”
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