As of Thursday afternoon, no Connecticut immigrants had been detained through Secure Communities, a federal deportation program that was implemented statewide on Feb. 22. Still, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration is taking measures that could curb the program’s efforts in the state.
Under Secure Communities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials check police fingerprints of criminal suspects against ICE databases in an effort to deport criminals residing in the country illegally. If ICE officials believe a suspect may be undocumented, they can issue a detainment request that the state hold the individual in custody so that ICE can determine whether to initiate deportation proceedings. Mike Lawlor, the state’s undersecretary for criminal justice and policy planning, said state administrators are currently drafting a “checklist” that will be used to determine the cases in which the state will comply with ICE’s detainment requests and when the requests will be ignored. He said the checklist will be a set of specific criteria to ensure that ICE is only able to deport dangerous convicts and not those who are guilty of minor crimes.
Two days prior to Secure Communities’ implementation, Malloy, who has openly criticized the program, hinted at the checklist when he released a statement through his office that said state law enforcement would decide whether to honor deportation requests on a “case-by-case basis.”
“ICE says Secure Communities will focus on deporting serious offenders, so our goal is to take the way the program has been advertised and reduce that to a checklist,” Lawlor said. “If you meet the criteria, law enforcement will detain you, and if not, you will be released.”
Lawlor said Malloy’s office, the Department of Correction, and the attorney general’s office are currently formulating the checklist. He added that the program “is seriously flawed and risks undermining community policing efforts” to build trust between immigrants and law enforcement.
Lawlor cited instances of domestic violence as evidence of the negative effect Secure Communities could have on Connecticut residents.
“Let’s say you are a victim of family violence — if your significant other, the breadwinner in the family, happens to be in the undocumented category and he will be deported if you call police, that’s going to affect your decision,” Lawlor said. “And that’s not hypothetical, that’s real stuff. That does happen.”
Despite widespread criticism of the program, which Yale Law School students in the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic are contesting in a lawsuit, ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein defended Secure Communities and said it has demonstrated its effectiveness in focusing deportation efforts on criminal offenders. He added that 94 percent of those deported through Secure Communities are either convicted criminals, recent illegal border entrants, fugitives or repeat offenders.
Feinstein maintained ICE’s authority to request that states detain requested suspects, though he acknowledged that the agency lacks the authority to force states to comply with the requests.
“Law enforcement agencies that honor ICE detainment requests ultimately help protect public safety,” Feinstein said. “ICE anticipates that law enforcement will comply with the detainers, though we have not sought to compel compliance through legal proceedings.”
Feinstein added that he believed jurisdictions that ignore ICE’s detainment requests should bear responsibility for possible public safety risks.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has also been a vocal critic of Secure Communities, and City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said the mayor remains concerned about the program’s threat to the New Haven Police Department’s efforts to return the city to a community policing strategy of law enforcement.
“Secure Communities runs counter to the relationships and trust we are working to grow via community policing,” Benton said. “When we create barriers between residents and police, and between residents and important public services, our city as a whole suffers.”
Following Secure Communities’ implementation in Connecticut, Malloy also ordered a review of the program to be undertaken by the Department of Correction. Brian Garnett, the department’s director of external affairs, said the review is in its “very initial stages.”