About 300 protesters marched around the New Haven Green last November in a demonstration organized by the immigrants’ rights group Unidad Latina en Acción. The group expressed support for women, Muslims, LGBTQ people and people of color as well as immigrants. MICHELLE LIU / New Haven Independent

Last December Elias Roblero, was in the Meriden Court to answer charges of driving under the influence. The hearing was short; the state prosecutor and the public defender agreed that Elías was a family man with no criminal history and did not deserve jail time. The judge concurred, imposing an 11-month suspended sentence and two years of probation. His wife, 15-year old daughter and 17-year old son were waiting for him in the hallway. Elías only needed to check with the parole office, sign some documents, and be released to his family.

Miquel Castro

He never came out.

When leaving the court room, Elías remained in the custody of Judicial Marshals, detained intentionally so he could be extradited into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Judicial Marshals called ICE to share information that was contained in a court proceeding, partnering with the federal agency in a deportation effort despite the judge ruling that Elías was a free man. ICE arrested Elías and took him away in front of his wife, kids and friends.

Five months have passed since that day. His family only knows that he is in a detention facility somewhere in the South, awaiting deportation. No warrant for his arrest was ever produced, beyond a judicial marshal calling in the feds.

Elías’ story is far from uncommon. For years, federal authorities, often aided by state and local law enforcement agencies, have been engaged in an active campaign to deport as many immigrants as possible, with little regard to how long they have been in the country or the lives they have built.  Elías had children, a steady job, and a good life in Connecticut. He had made a mistake, but a judge, following Connecticut law and due process, rendered a verdict that Elias was to enter a parole process and release back to his family and community. That did not matter for the Judicial Marshals or ICE.

The Trump administration has unleashed a sweeping, cruel and misguided deportation agenda to advance its own political strategy. Federal courts have ruled that ICE cannot require state and local officials to be its deportation agents. An immigration detainer is simply an administrative request by an ICE employee, not a judicial warrant that must meet constitutional requirements of probable cause and be signed by a judge (the means used by every other federal agency seeking to have someone held).

When our state or local governments unwisely and unnecessarily abet the Trump deportation rampage, we are diverting resources that should be used for genuine public safety purposes. We are also sowing terror in our immigrant communities, building distrust of our public institutions, and discouraging witnesses and victims from coming forward to utilize our law enforcement and court systems. For all these reasons, over 760 state and local jurisdictions around the country already refuse to hold people based solely on an ICE detainer request.

Under Connecticut law, Judicial Marshals have no obligation to check the immigration status of anyone under their custody. Our current TRUST Act limits when they can contact immigration authorities but leaves considerable discretion to how those standards are applied. This has led to arbitrary detention practices that have veered into outright discrimination, with some law enforcement officials targeting low-income minority immigrants for detention and deportation without due process or legal recourse.

It is a flawed process that allows too much discretion to these individuals and gives them too much power. Many agencies operate under a pervasive culture where discrimination is tolerated or ignored.

Connecticut’s policymakers have the responsibility to fix these problems. Instead of letting Judicial Marshals or other local law enforcement officials decide when they can retain someone under custody and contact ICE, lawmakers must establish clear limits on when local and state officials should cooperate with immigration authorities. The current framework, the 2013 TRUST Act, was pioneering legislation in the country, but the recent escalation of enforcement tactics by ICE has rendered it obsolete.

The General Assembly is currently discussing two pieces of legislation that would close these loopholes.  One bill (S.B. 992) would expand Connecticut’s 2013 TRUST Act, ensuring that state law enforcement agencies will only respond to ICE immigration detainers if accompanied by a judicial warrant. A companion bill (S.B. 948) would cut the maximum misdemeanor sentences by one day, from 365 days to 364 days. As federal legislation establishes that immigrants can be detained and deported if they have been convicted of a crime which carries a maximum possible sentence of one year, this change will prevent ICE from detaining without trial individuals that have only been convicted of a misdemeanor.

Both proposals are necessary, welcome steps that would help protect our communities, greatly curtail discretionary powers from law enforcement agencies that have been routinely abused and ensure that thousands of Connecticut residents no longer live in constant fear of deportation.

Policymakers should do everything in their power to ensure that immigration policies reflect our values. We have a chance to push back against the politics of hate and fear. We can protect and defend our immigrant families and communities. Now it is the time to act.

Miquel Castro is a member of the Meriden City Council and Chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus.

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