Nine day laborers filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing Danbury’s mayor and police officers of committing constitutional violations and unlawfully collaborating with federal agents to enforce immigration laws.
The civil rights suit was filed by Yale Law School professors and students on behalf of nine of eleven workers now known as the “Danbury 11,” as well as a man who was pulled over for a noisy muffler and subsequently arrested and deported. All 10 said their arrests were predicated on racial profiling and discrimination, violated their free speech rights, and lacked due process when local police officials took federal law into their own hands.
Danbury Mayor Mark D. Boughton said he could not comment on the suit’s specifics but felt that the allegations stifled further discourse on illegal immigration.
“We believe this is an attempt by Yale to bully myself and [my] administration into not discussing … the issue of illegal immigration,” he said. “If Yale is to prevail in this lawsuit … local municipalities would never be able to assist federal municipalities in doing their jobs.”
According to the complaint, an undercover Danbury Police Department officer posing as a contractor approached day laborers in a downtown park. After telling the men he’d pay them $11 an hour to tear down a fence, the officer drove the workers to a parking lot where police officers surrounded and ultimately arrested them without presenting warrants.
According to Geri Greenspan LAW ’08, who is working on the case, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said it was called in by the city of Danbury to assist in a DPD operation. However, Boughton said the city merely provided logistical support to ICE at its request. Officers from both parties were present when the arrests took place, although it is unclear which agency made the arrest.
DPD records indicate that around 7 a.m. the 11 men were arrested for “Illegal Entry Into U.S.” Unless specifically authorized by ICE, local and state municipalities do not have the power to arrest undocumented immigrants on civil charges, a rule that ICE and the Danbury police officers named in the suit grossly overstepped, the complaint said.
Greenspan said ICE internal documents obtained through a recent Freedom of Information Act request establish that Danbury police orchestrated the arrests.
“It was a Danbury police officer driving the undercover van, the men arrested were taken to the Danbury police department, we know that there were city police cruisers at the site where the men were arrested,” she said. “Danbury was not just there to make sure everything went okay. We know they played an active role in the operation.”
But Boughton said vehicles and cruisers are typically part of the “logistical support” that any municipality provides for ICE operations.
Based on her conversation with community members, Greenspan said, she feels that Danbury has a pattern of racial profiling. Most notably, she said, officers have been pulling over residents who look Latino for traffic violations that most residents get away with.
But Boughton said notions of structural discrimination in Danbury are “nonsense.”
“We strive for the neutral application of our laws regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or status,” he said. “We simply ask from a health and safety purpose that people follow that laws that we have written into our ordinances.”
Boughton has previously advocated for Danbury to partner with ICE. In 2005, the mayor asked CT State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to train state police officers in federal immigration law enforcement practices. But state officials denied his request to participate in 287(g), the section of the 1996 Immigration and Nationality Act authorizing local and state officials to enforce federal immigration laws.
287(g) has been adopted by 26 local and state jurisdictions and the program “has identified more than 22,000 illegal aliens, mostly in county jails,” ICE’s Web site reads. Last year, in a 2006 speech addressing immigration, President Bush announced that he would boost 287(g)’s $5.5 million budget to $50 million.
At the same time, many municipalities have shied away from 287(g), contending that it does not allow local law enforcement to do its job adequately and endangers public safety because undocumented immigrants might be too scared to share information with local authorities in the wake of a crime. The New Haven Police Department in recent years has refrained from administering federal immigration law for these reasons, Greenspan said.