In front of a federal judge Monday, two Yale Law School students argued for the return of deported Connecticut residents Paula Milardo and Arnold Giammarco.
In late February, Connecticut state Sen. Eric Coleman and state Rep. William Tong subpoenaed Giammarco and Milardo to appear in a public hearing slated for April regarding the consequences of Connecticut’s immigration laws on immigrant families, according to a joint declaration of Coleman and Tong. Both former residents had been deported to Italy in previous years — Milardo in 2011 and Giammarco in 2012 — for criminal convictions accrued in the U.S. Yale Law students Claire Simonich LAW ’16 and Avinash Samarth LAW ’16 from the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization are representing Giammarco’s and Milardo’s cases, while Giammarco and Milardo are still currently in Campo di Fano and Melilli, respectively.
Simonich and Samarth have argued in court that the in-person testimonies of the residents are necessary to best convey their clients’ experiences. But Elizabeth Stevens — assistant director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation — who represented the federal government in court March 28, claimed video conferencing could provide an acceptable alternative to in-person testimony. After hearing over two hours of arguments, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant failed to reach a decision.
“There are other empirical studies that show that the outcome of a case can hinge enormously on whether or not it’s video conferencing versus in person,” Simonich said.
Milardo, now 66, moved to the U.S. legally in 1961, according to the YLS Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic. She married a disabled U.S. Army veteran in 1970 and now has six grandchildren. After her husband was diagnosed with cancer, Milardo developed a gambling addiction, which led her to steal $30,000 from an elderly friend. After she served a prison sentence for her criminal conviction, Milardo was deported. Giammarco, a U.S. Army veteran who immigrated in 1960, developed a drug addiction after the collapse of his first marriage and received several convictions for larceny and drug possession offenses. After he was arrested, Giammarco — now 60 years old — was deported.
After hearing Giammarco and Milardo’s stories, the Connecticut General Assembly identified the petitioners as potential testifiers at the April 4 informational hearing about the impact of Connecticut immigration laws. Giammarco and Milardo may also be candidates for a pardon, which would clear their criminal records, Simonich said.
The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to Giammarco and Milardo so that the two could return to the United States to testify in person about their crimes. But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials denied their reentry into the country. In response, and with the aid of law students, Giammarco and Milardo filed a petition on March 16 to force ICE to allow their re-entry.
That petition led to the Monday court hearing, at which a federal attorney argued that Giammarco and Milardo should not be allowed to return to the U.S. to testify in person. The attorney presented video conferencing as an acceptable alternative to in-person testimony.
“They can do it through a video conference,” ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer told the Connecticut Law Tribune on March 18. “It is neither necessary, nor in the best interests of public safety, for previously convicted criminal aliens to be physically present in the United States to give testimony before a legislative body.”
On Monday, Stevens argued that video conferencing is widely used in courts around the world for remote witness testimony. ICE has also offered to provide video conferencing equipment in Italy for Giammarco and Milardo.
But Simonich and Samarth argued that video conferencing was an unacceptable alternative to in-person testimony. Simonich added that the federal court should comply with the specific request of Connecticut legislators that Giammarco and Milardo testify in person. Simonich also said social science research supports the argument against using video conferencing as testimony: 95 percent of social cues are given through in-person testimony, Simonich said, and those cues are lost in a statement made on video.
“Throughout the legal tradition, in rules of court procedure, in different court cases, there’s a long-standing tradition of having live and in-person testimony that’s only really supposed to be broken in very compelling circumstances,” Simonich said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas declined to comment on Monday’s court proceedings.
At YLS, the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization provides legal aid to individuals and organizations unable to afford private attorneys.