State finds fault with immigration crackdown program

New Haven -- City and law enforcement leaders are calling on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to reject a U.S. Department of Homeland Security initiative they say would encourage racial profiling and undermine the city and state's power to police themselves.


New Haven Mayor John DeStefano

At a news conference today at City Hall, Mayor John DeStefano -- flanked by community leaders and the chief of police -- called the new federal initiative “dangerous and unconstitutional.”

The Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) plans to roll out its Secure Communities program in Connecticut this week. Local police departments already share arrest and fingerprint information with the FBI. But starting Wednesday, the FBI will automatically send those fingerprints to ICE to check against its immigration database.

 ICE can then ask the city or state to hold an individual in detention based on his or her immigration status. The agency says the program is meant to target the most dangerous individuals.

But DeStefano, calling the program a threat to community policing, said, "The federal Department of Homeland Security is about to make New Haven less safe and less secure in undermining our police relationships with a significant and large part of the city's population."

The mayor said Secure Communities violates, for example, the city's General Order 06-2, which prohibits officers from inquiring about or detaining an individual based on immigration status.

"Officers shall not make arrests based on administrative warrants for arrest or removal entered by ICE into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, including administrative immigration warrants for persons with outstanding removal, deportation or exclusion orders. Enforcement of the civil provisions of U.S. immigration law is the responsibility of federal immigration officials," the order reads.

Jessica Vosburgh of Yale Law School's Immigration Clinic said Fairfield County is the only jurisdiction in Connecticut where Secure Communities is currently in effect. Based on ICE data, the clinic found that since the program began in Fairfield County in June of 2010, 71 percent of people deported from that county under the program had either no criminal record, or were first-time offenders.

Yale Law Immigration Clinic

Jessica Vosburgh of the Yale Law School Immigration Clinic

"Secure Communities is a misguided and misleading program," she said. "It does not target the worst of the worst, as ICE claims it will do."

The Secure Communities initiative would effectively subject every person arrested in Connecticut to an immigration background check, Vosburgh added.

"The result is broken trust between police and immigrant communities, as the Department of Homeland Security's own task force has confirmed."

In a September 2011 report, members of the Department of Homeland Security task force on Secure Communities called for reform of the program. Other task force members went so far as to call for the termination of what they called a "fundamentally flawed" initiative. The report also acknowledges the potential negative effects the program might have on community policing initiatives.

The state can't prevent the FBI from sharing information with ICE, but it can choose whether to honor ICE requests for prolonged detentions.

Local governments across the country have rejected that aspect of Secure Communities. According to Vosburgh, Massachusetts, Illinois and New York have declared their opposition. The clinic also found that in two counties in New Mexico, officials refuse to hold arrestees on ICE detainers if they don't hold prior convictions. And in Santa Clara County, Calif., and New York City, law enforcement officials have disregarded ICE detainers except for serious or violent offenses.

In a statement released today, the state’s Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Michael Lawlor acknowledged legitimate concerns with the program.

“What this program does is it essentially converts local law enforcement officers into defacto agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency," the statement reads. "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 law enforcement, something that would completely undermine the goals of this program."

Malloy, who asked for and received a delay in activation of Secure Communities six months ago, has commissioned an ongoing review of the program. For now, according to Lawlor's statement, each ICE detention request will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Secure Communities was first activated in Harris County, Texas, in October 2008. As of September 2011, according to ICE, 142,000 "aliens" and 37,600 "criminal aliens" have been deported under the program. According to its website, ICE plans to implement Secure Communities nationally by 2013.