ICE officers suiting up U.S. Government
ICE officers suiting up U.S. Government

Washington – Gov. Dannel Malloy’s confidence that Connecticut won’t be subject to Trump administration punishment of  “sanctuary” cities and states is based on its policy of information-sharing with federal immigration authorities, despite the state’s immigrant-friendly stance.

Information sharing is compelled by a federal law known as Section 1373 that Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited this week in his threat to withhold federal police grants from “sanctuary” cities and states.

That law says a state or local government “may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

Session attacked states and cities that ignore civil “detainers,” requests from federal immigration officials to hold jailed undocumented immigrants so they can be picked up by ICE.

“Such policies cannot continue,” Sessions said of “sanctuary” jurisdictions. “They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets.”

But section 1373 does not require the honoring of detainers, only the sharing of information.

Malloy brushed off the Sessions’ threat of punishing sanctuary cities, saying Connecticut is compliant with U.S. immigration law and is in no danger of losing federal law enforcement grants over its differences on immigration with the Trump administration.

Connecticut’s Trust Act, approved in 2013, says state and local law-enforcement agencies can only detain suspects at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) beyond the time of their scheduled release under certain circumstances. Among the federal detainers the state will honor are those involving undocumented aliens who have been convicted of a felony, have an outstanding arrest warrant, are involved in gang activity or present “an unacceptable risk to public safety.”

The Trust Act says other requests to detain an immigrant beyond his or her release date can be ignored. But the law, aimed at fostering good relations between Connecticut’s law enforcement agencies and their growing immigrant communities, also compels Department of Correction and other law enforcement officials to notify federal immigration authorities about whether the subject of a detainer will be held or released.

“The Connecticut law does not go far enough,” said Alok Bhatt of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance. “The Trust Act really doesn’t do that much. It’s really just a step forward.”

Bhatt said the requirement under the Trust Act for the Connecticut Department of Corrections to provide federal immigration authorities with information “kind of undermines the detainer policy in our point of view.”

“There’s nothing to prevent the DOC from giving ICE whatever it wants,” Bhatt said. “Malloy has been decent on expressing public support for immigrants, but on the policy, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Senate Judiciary Committee video feed / File Photo

Connecticut cities, including New Haven and Hartford, that say they have immigrant-friendly policies, give their law enforcement officers “mostly guidance, not legally controlling regulations” that say they shouldn’t ask a person’s legal status or cooperate with ICE agents, Bhatt said.

In contrast, Connecticut, Chicago and Seattle prohibit all city employees from sharing information with ICE about the immigration status of anyone, with a few narrow exceptions. Other jurisdictions also withhold information from federal immigration authorities.

Beyond the information it gives about people that are subject to detainers,  Connecticut has entered into an agreement with ICE, the Department of Homeland Security and other immigration enforcement agencies to share information they collect on the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing system, or COLLECT, a database that gives users access to state DMV data, court data, probation information, protective orders, boating certifications, hunting and fishing licenses, and other data.

“They have direct access to whatever info they want via COLLECT,” said Michael Lawlor, Connecticut undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, in response to a question regarding Connecticut’s information-sharing with the federal immigration authorities.

“Without access to the system, ICE officers will not be able to locate and track illegal aliens,” says an ICE disclosure document about its agreement with Connecticut. “No other organization maintains data necessary to complete this task efficiently but the State of Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.”

States share their law enforcement information with the FBI, but the state has given ICE an unusual amount of  information, said Michael Wishnie, a clinical law professor at Yale who has studied ICE’s use of COLLECT data.

Michael Wishnie New Haven Independent

“Sharing criminal records information is understandable, but sharing information beyond that when the government is saying it will use it to target immigrants is not wise,” Wishnie said.

Malloy spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly did not answer a question about why the state has the information-sharing arrangement with ICE.

Bhatt says he’s concerned certain information, including data about “drive only” licenses it gives undocumented immigrants, can raise “red flags” with ICE that lead to deportations.

Fear and confusion

While Malloy says the state is compliant with federal immigration laws, ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said executive orders Trump signed in January clearly say states like Connecticut must cooperate with ICE.

“If a jurisdiction says, “Here’s what we will do or not do, it is not compliant,” Neudauer said.

To Neudauer, a Trust Act is a “public statement that says a jurisdiction won’t cooperate with federal law enforcement.”

This week, the state of Connecticut was added to the DHS “Table of Jurisdictions That Have Enacted Policies Which Limit Cooperation with ICE.” The state’s Trust Act was cited.

Dozens of other cities, large and small, and counties also were listed, including Hartford, East Haven, Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago and Newark, N.J.

The release of the list by ICE was prompted by an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in January. That order called on the government to document which local jurisdictions aren’t cooperating with federal efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally.

But Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the Trump administration knows the federal laws it wants to use to go after the policing funds of “sanctuary” jurisdictions “are weak” and would not survive legal challenges.

The administration has not legally defined what a “sanctuary” city or state is.

To Saenz, Sessions held the press conference on sanctuary cities to deflect public attention from the GOP’s failure to win support for a health bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

He accuses the Trump administration of “saber rattling” on immigration policy but stalling on issuing new regulations that would enable its more aggressive approach to immigration enforcement because they would immediately be challenged in court.

“What they want to create is chaos and fear and confusion in the immigrant community,” he said.

Updated at 9:20 p.m.

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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