The Connecticut House of Representatives passed two major bills last week in an ongoing effort to improve the quality of life for the state’s undocumented immigrants.
The first bill, passed unanimously on Wednesday, was a bipartisan response to cases such as the detainment of Jose Maria Islas. Islas, an undocumented New Haven resident, was wrongly arrested for robbery and subsequently detained by Immigration Customs Enforcement, who
learned of Islas’s undocumented status through his arrest.
Sponsored by Rep. and New Haven mayoral candidate Gary Holder-Winfield, the bill would prohibit police officers across the state from reporting that they had arrested an undocumented immigrant, except in cases of a violent felony.
“Having grown up in a community where police were not trusted, I understand that a community is less safe when it is unable to interact
with the police,” Holder-Winfield said in a statement released by his mayoral campaign. “The protocols set forth in this bill make
communities safer, are cost-effective and shift the responsibility for immigration back where it belongs with our federal government.”
The latter bill met much more resistance in the house, seeing seven hours of debate before it was passed early Thursday morning on a 74-55
vote. Introduced by Rep. Juan Candelaria, also of New Haven, the bill would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Proponents of the bill said it will improve public safety by deterring undocumented immigrants from driving without first taking lessons. For many, the move also signified a burgeoning desire to dignify immigrant communities.
However, lawmakers in opposition to the bill said Democrats rushed it through without first studying the issue. House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the legislature should not have pushed such legislation without first studying the number of people it would impact and its corresponding financial burden on the state.
As of 2010, nearly 120,000 undocumented immigrants reside in Connecticut, according to a 2013 Pew Research center survey.