Officials protest Secure Communities program

Jessica Vosburgh LAW ’13, a member of the Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy clinic, joined city and state officials at City Hall Monday at a press conference urging Gov. Dannel Malloy to resist a new federal immigration enforcement program.
Jessica Vosburgh LAW ’13, a member of the Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy clinic, joined city and state officials at City Hall Monday at a press conference urging Gov. Dannel Malloy to resist a new federal immigration enforcement program. Photo by Christopher Peak.

City and state officials gathered at City Hall Monday afternoon to protest Secure Communities, a federal immigration enforcement program they said would hurt community policing efforts in New Haven and damage the city’s social fabric.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr., along with members of a Yale Law School clinic, State Rep. Juan Candelaria, members of the Board of Aldermen and other community leaders, held a press conference in which they called on U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to delay the implementation of Secure Communities in Connecticut. According to ICE, the program, scheduled to begin in Connecticut on Wednesday, is designed to prioritize for deportation proceedings undocumented immigrants who commit serious crimes and pose public safety risks. Officials at the press conference, however, argued that Secure Communities threatens to lead to racial profiling and erode trust between the New Haven Police Department and the city’s large immigrant community, making effective policing difficult.

“Among the biggest responsibilities of New Haven city government is public safety,” said DeStefano, likening Secure Communities to the June 2007 ICE raid on city residents that resulted in a settlement paid to 11 of those arrested after they sued federal immigration authorities. “Now, for the second time in five years, the Department of Homeland Security is about to make New Haven less safe and less secure.”

Under Secure Communities, ICE officials are given biometric information collected by local police departments in routine arrests and then issue detainment requests to states for positive matches of people residing in the country illegally. DeStefano and other city officials said Secure Communities is “flawed and in need of correction,” and does not serve the purpose for which it was designed — often deporting residents with no criminal record or first-time offenders who have committed minor, nonviolent crimes.

He cited a September 2011 report by the Department of Homeland Security that found “the impact of Secure Communities has not been limited to convicted criminals, dangerous and violent offenders, or threats to public safety and national security,” and called on ICE to defer the start of the program until after these concerns have been addressed. If that does not happen, DeStefano said he hoped Gov. Dannel Malloy will distinguish between serious and low-level offenses when choosing to honor detainment requests by federal agents.

“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,” Mike Lawlor, Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, said in a Monday statement.

The implementation of the program in Connecticut will begin on Wednesday, nearly six months after Gov. Malloy requested a delay due to concerns outlined in the Department of Homeland Security report.

He also said the program “essentially converts local law enforcement offers into de facto agents of [ICE],” a situation that police officials in New Haven said they would prefer to avoid.

NHPD Chief Dean Esserman, who was brought to New Haven last fall as the city publicly renewed its commitment to a community policing strategy, said the majority of police chiefs across the nation have found Secure Communities harmful to their policing efforts.

“At a time when America’s police are trying to build trust across the nation, this does not help,” Esserman said.

ICE officials could not be reached for comment Monday as the agency’s office was closed for Presidents Day.

A CONTROVERSIAL PROGRAM

Secure Communities was piloted in 2008 under the Bush administration to identify and deport “the worst of the worst” undocumented residents, DeStefano said. It was then expanded under the Obama administration — currently, Secure Communities is enacted in about two-thirds of jurisdictions across the nation — and is set to become mandatory nationwide by 2013.

Under federal law, local police departments run suspects’ fingerprints through the FBI database to see if they have a criminal record. But under Secure Communities, those fingerprints are also checked with the ICE database to determine if the suspect is undocumented. If ICE has reason to believe the suspect is an illegal immigrant, the agency can issue a detainment request to the state, allowing the suspect to be held for up to 48 hours while immigration officials — who will decide whether to initiate deportation proceedings against the suspect — arrive.

ICE officials say the program has resulted in an 89 percent increase in the number of convicted criminals deported by ICE between October 2008 and October 2011, as well as a 29 percent reduction in deportation of non-criminals.

But the effectiveness of Secure Communities was questioned aggressively by press conference attendees. Jessica Vosburgh LAW ’13, who is a member of the Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy clinic, said a study of the Secure Communities in Fairfield County — the only county in the state where the program is operational — found that, since its implementation in June 2010, 71 percent of those deported were first-time offenders or guilty of minor crimes such as shoplifting or traffic violations. Only 16 of the 133 people removed by ICE in Fairfield County were convicted of serious felonies, such as rape or homicide.

According to ICE’s website, the number of people removed from the country for misdemeanors will decrease over time. Already, the number of deportations for misdemeanors decreased from 40 percent of all deportations in fiscal year 2009 to 29 percent in fiscal year 2011.

Vosburgh argued that Secure Communities is “unconstitutional” and an “impermissible encroachment” on liberty because it undermines cities’ ability to govern themselves. The implementation of Secure Communities, she said, would contradict NHPD General Order 06-2, enacted by then-Chief Francisco Ortiz in 2006, which instructed police officers not to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine law enforcement.

DeStefano said that ICE officials never informed New Haven officials that Secure Communities would be implemented, and that the city learned of it independently. City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said the city was looking into the possibility that an official notice was sent to former NHPD Chief Frank Limon’s email address.

When the city learned Secure Communities would become mandatory next year, city leaders — along with State Reps. Pat Dillon, Roland Lemar and Candelaria — spoke out against it at a press conference in December. Following the press conference, DeStefano proposed a state bill allowing undocumented city residents to vote in municipal elections.

MURKY LEGAL TERRITORY

The 2011 Homeland Security report stated that ICE has ignored requests for exemption from law enforcement departments who did not wish to participate in the program.

“Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part,” ICE Director John Morton wrote in a letter to state governors last August.

New York, Massachusetts and Illinois, as well as several jurisdictions in California, have all fought against Secure Communities’ implementation. But Morton said that, regardless of local protest, the program will continue to roll out until 2013, when it will be in place across the nation.

According to Benton, ICE will likely ignore the city’s requests to delay the program’s implementation and New Haven will be under Secure Communities as of Wednesday. The question, she said, is to what degree the state decides to cooperate with the program.

In his statement Monday, Lawlor indicated that the state may not honor all of ICE’s requests.

“The governor has asked Department of Corrections Commissioner Leo Arnone to create an ongoing review of how this program is implemented and what the ramifications are, and see what if any corrective action is needed going forward,” Lawlor said in the statement. “Decisions on how to respond to each request will be made on a case-by-case basis.”

Since the state’s role in Secure Communities is to carry out ICE’s requests for detainment, Arnone will be responsible for whether it complies with the requests and detains undocumented residents while immigration reviews are performed. Michael Wishnie ’83 LAW ’93, who runs the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy clinic, said Secure Communities may be unconstitutional and that Malloy is not legally obligated to comply.

According to officials such as Ward 16 Alderwoman Migdalia Castro of Fair Haven, the program threatens not only to strain the city’s policing efforts but also to instill fear in an entire community.

After the 2007 ICE raids — when federal agents detained 29 Fair Haven residents in what city officials said was retaliation for the city’s immigrant-friendly ID card program passed two days earlier — Castro said a large part of the city’s immigration population stopped going to work, shopping and attending school for some time.

“This is not something that sends families to work,” Castro said. “It divides.”

“Secure Communities jeopardizes our safety by creating a community of mistrust,” said Latrina Kelly, the interim director of Junta for Progressive Action, an immigrants’ rights advocacy group. She added she has been contacted by New Haven residents who are afraid of what might happen when the program starts.

Since Secure Communities’ activation through Feb. 7, nearly 120,000 people have been deported through the program.

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