Washington — Gov. Dannel Malloy’s announcement that he will decide whether to turn over detained immigrants to federal authorities has landed with a thud in Washington.
“We expect all local law enforcement to honor all of our detainers,” said Ross Feinstein, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Malloy has joined a few other Democratic governors, including Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick and Illinois’ Pat Quinn, who are trying to resist an Obama administration policy called Secure Communities.
State and local law enforcement agencies submit fingerprints of those arrested to the FBI. Secure Communities allows the FBI to share that arrest information with ICE and other federal agencies wiith the aim of finding iillegal immigrants the fedeal government wants to deport.
The federal government implemented Secure Communities in Fairfield County 2010.
When it was extended to the rest of the state last week, Malloy said he would decide which detainees to turn over to ICE on a “case-by-case” basis.
ICE says Secure Communities is needed to deport criminal aliens. But immigration advocates say immigrants who have committed no crimes, or minor crimes, are also caught in the net.
Michael Lawlor, Connecticut’s undersecretary for criminal justice, said the Secure Communities program drives a wedge between law enforcement agencies and immigrant communities. He said immigrants aren’t likely to trust or cooperate with police if they think it could lead to deportation.
“At the end of the day, the result is immigrants see the police as immigration police,” Lawlor said. “The public safety then begins to fall apart.”
To Lawlor, there’s a gray area in federal immigration law that allows Connecticut to defy ICE.
“It’s just a request, it’s not an order,” Lawlor said of ICE’s detainer policy.
ICE has a different opinion. In a statement, the agency said a request “flows from federal regulations” and authority to request a turnover of detainees is granted to ICE under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
ICE says local and state agencies are required to hold detainees for two working days so its agents can pick them up.
But ICE also said it has not instituted legal proceedings against a few jurisdictions — such as Illinois’ Cook County — that refuse to hold detainees.
“Law enforcement agencies that honor ICE detainers ultimately help protect public safety,” the agency said. “ICE anticipates that law enforcement agencies will comply with the detainer though ICE has not sought to compel compliance through legal proceedings.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has authority over ICE, contacted the Malloy administration after it made its announcement on detainees.
Betsy Markey, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs, called Mark Ojakian, the governor’s chief of staff.
Ojakian said she made no demands, nor did she complain about the administration’s position.
“There was no hard sell,” Ojakian said. “It was, ‘We are here to provide assistance should you need some questions answered.’ I thought it was going to be a different kind of conversation, but it turned out to be pleasant.”
Ojakian also said he told Markey to contact Lawlor.
On Tuesday, immigration advocate groups praised the Malloy administration on its new detainee policy.
America’s Voice Education Fund said Lawlor has joined a chorus of public officials and law enforcement officers “who have been pointing out the fact that (Secure Communities) is not actually focused on dangerous criminals, but is also ensnaring ordinary immigrants who are pulled over for a broken taillight or simply to have their ‘papers’ checked.”
Latrina Kelly of the Junta for Progressive Action in New Haven, said Secure Communities has already sparked fear in Connecticut’s immigrant population, even if it has only been in force for a few days.
“The launch of Secure Communities statewide in Connecticut has put immigrants into the shadows,” Kelly said. “Streets are empty within many immigrant communities, and the fear manifests in children not going to schools, people not going to work or frequenting businesses.”
Latinos are over-represented in the numbers of deportees. While Hispanics make up 77 percent of detained illegal immigrants, they account for 93 percent of the deportees.
This makes the Obama administration’s ramp up of deportations a hot button issue among Latinos — and a problem for the president who won several key swing states in the 2008 election with the help of the Latino vote.
As such, the administration has taken recent steps to try to blunt the impact of its immigration policy, including allowing immigration officials to use “prosecutorial discretion” to decide when to institute deportation proceedings.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration hopes to finish implementing the controversial Secure Community program nationwide by next year.
It says that as of Jan. 31, 2012, 169,329 immigrants convicted of crimes, including murder and rape, were removed from the United States after identification through Secure Communities.