Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Connecticut Agrees to Limits on Participation in Federal Immigration Enforcement Program: State settles lawsuit challenging Secure Communities

About a year after federal authorities activated the Secure Communities program in Connecticut, immigrants’ rights advocates are announcing the settlement of a lawsuit against the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) regarding a key aspect of the Secure Communities program. The settlement will drastically limit the number of Connecticut residents handed over to federal immigration authorities for the next four years.

With this policy, DOC has become the first statewide agency in the country to resist the immigration detainer scheme at the heart of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) Secure Communities program, which has been heavily criticized for leading to the deportation of thousands of individuals with no or minimal criminal history. As a result of the policy, the number of Connecticut residents turned over by DOC for deportation has already plummeted by approximately 70%. See Download AD 9.3

Sergio Brizuela, a 33-year-old resident of East Haven, filed the federal civil rights lawsuit, Brizuela v. Feliciano, in February 2012 after DOC unlawfully detained him and transferred him to ICE custody. At that time, it was DOC policy to honor requests from ICE to detain individuals even after they posted bail or served their sentences in order to facilitate transfer to ICE custody for deportation. These requests, known as “immigration detainers,” are not warrants and do not lawfully authorize detention.

In response to Mr. Brizuela’s lawsuit and community pressure challenging the policy, DOC committed to conducting a case-by-case review of each person who has been issued an immigration detainer and releasing those who do not meet certain public dangerousness criteria.

 DOC’s policy, which has been substantially in place for some months now while the lawsuit was pending, has already led to fewer deportations of Connecticut residents. In 2011, DOC turned approximately 33 individuals over to ICE each month. Now that DOC is conducting its case-bycase assessment, it is turning over fewer than 10 people to ICE each month; this amounts to a 70% decrease in the number of Connecticut residents turned over to ICE each month.

The Obama Administration touts the Secure Communities program as targeting the worst of the worst, but law enforcement and immigrants’ rights advocates criticize the program for sweeping people with little or no criminal history, such as Mr. Brizuela, into the deportation dragnet.

With this settlement, DOC joins law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions—including San Francisco, California; Santa Clara County, California (San Jose); Cook County, Illinois (Chicago); and Washington D.C.—in implementing policies to resist detention for federal authorities under Secure Communities. The DOC policy is the first statewide measure to limit the detention of residents for transfer to ICE.

Yale Law School’s Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization represents Mr. Brizuela.

The settlement between Mr. Brizuela and DOC, filed yesterday in federal court in New Haven, ensures that DOC’s case-by-case review policy will remain in place for at least four years. In addition, DOC will provide notice, in English and Spanish, to every individual in its custody for whom it receives an immigration detainer and to every individual DOC decides to hold for ICE. The notice will also provide a toll-free number for individuals to call if they believe they are being improperly detained under the policy. DOC will provide data to Mr. Brizuela’s lawyers on a monthly basis regarding all inmates held or released under the policy.

Although the new policy is a significant step forward, it is only a start, as some Connecticut residents may still be detained and turned over to ICE pursuant to immigration detainers.

For stories on the settlement, click here and here.


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