Community activists convened in Sudler Hall Wednesday night to oppose Secure Communities, the federal government’s new program intended to deport criminals living in the country illegally.

The panel was jointly hosted by the Yale College Democrats, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) de Yale and the University’s chapter of Amnesty International. Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Yale Law School professor Michael Wishnie, Armando Ghinaglia of Connecticut Students for a DREAM, Fair Haven Alderwoman Migdalia Castro and Latricia Kelly, the director of development and programs for Junta for Progressive Action, along with around 30 students, gathered to discuss their concerns about the program and future steps as it is executed nationwide.

While the program has been advertised as a narrowly targeted program focusing on violent offenders, its long-term implications may be broader, Wishnie said, describing the Secure Communities Act as the “latest effort by U.S. Immigration and Customs [Enforcement] to arrest and deport lots of people.” Under Secure Communities, criminal suspects’ information is run through ICE’s database following incidents as small as a routine traffic stop. If ICE’s information identifies the suspect as likely to be undocumented, the agency can issue a request to a state that it hold the suspect for up to 48 hours. Panelists expressed concerns that these detainment requests were issued too broadly. Less than a third of the people detained are actually dangerous criminals, Wishnie said.

“Your main goal is to target individuals with violent records, but you’re opening a Pandora’s box of ills to come into this state,” said Castro, whose neighborhood contains the city’s highest proportion of Latino immigrants.

Panelists also stressed that the program leads to insecurity in immigrant neighborhoods. In communities such as East Haven, which has a large Ecuadorian population, Kelly said, “there is a great sense of fear — people don’t want to go out, and don’t want to report crimes.” Lack of public understanding has created rumors that police are pulling people to check immigration papers, she said, adding that this has contributed to “the fear of being profiled … because you are a Latino or a person of color.”

Castro agreed with this assessment, and suggested that a public awareness campaign might be helpful in explaining the program to city residents.

DeStefano also highlighted New Haven’s track record of immigrant-friendly policies, which he said are under threat by the ICE program. The New Haven Police Department, DeStefano said, is not concerned with residents’ immigration statuses unless they have committed a crime, a result of an executive order he issued in 2006. He added that effective policing depends upon trust between a city’s residents and its police department. Without trust, he said, residents refrain from reporting crimes and are less cooperative with law enforcement officials.

Though he was critical of Secure Communities, Wishnie reminded attendees that ICE’s requests for detainment are not legally binding mandates. While a warrant undergoes a constitutionally mandated review from a judge, detainment requests are issued by ICE agents, and therefore it is up to states to comply with them or not, Wishnie said.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office clarified its stance toward Secure Communities on Tuesday, releasing a new policy which would result in the state’s compliance with most, but not all, detainment requests. Such a policy is promising, Wishnie said, because it demonstrates Malloy’s understanding that detainers are not binding. Wishnie said he believes Malloy is the first governor who has publicly decided not to honor all detainment requests.

Panelists called for students in attendance to get involved with community-based organizations, sign petitions and speak with representatives to oppose the program.

“The Secure Communities would turn the police into de facto agents of deportation, which would erode faith in police, and this is very risky,” said Sohara Shachi ’12, who attended the event. “That is a huge argument against it, especially in New Haven, where crime rates are high.”

Secure Communities is scheduled to be implemented nationwide by 2013.