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Immigration Rights Advocates Warn of Connecticut TRUST Act "Loophole"

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The Connecticut DOC ?will? hold for ICE an inmate with a previous deportation order, which has the immigrant community worried.

Connecticut was one of the first states to pass a law that limits how its prison system responds to federal immigration officials. The Connecticut TRUST Act came out of a settlement between the Department of Correction and student interns at Yale Law School that set guidelines for when the DOC would hold inmates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The policy was once celebrated by immigrant advocates. Now they say a loophole in the state law is still causing immigrants with minor criminal records to end up in ICE custody. 

The federal Secure Communities program allows arrest information nationwide to be shared with ICE. In some instances, when an inmate is set to be released, ICE will place a detainer on him or her.

That means local law enforcement can choose to hold that person up to 48 hours, so the federal agency can decide whether to pick the person up and start deportation proceedings.

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
Mike Lawlor.

Connecticut's law was meant to protect immigrants who had been wrongfully arrested or charged with minor offenses from indiscriminately being turned over to ICE. The state law was also supposed to keep the federal program from harming the relationship local police have with the community, according to Mike Lawlor,? Governor Dannel Malloy?'s chief for criminal justice policy and planning.

In 2012, Lawlor explained the concern as the Secure Communities program launched across the country. ??"ICE says they?'ve limited this program to only the most serious offenders," he said. "If it turns out that that'?s the case, then I don'?t think there'?s going to be a problem. However, if it turns out that a lot of low-level people are being held -- let'?s say, someone just arrested for shoplifting, or driving an unregistered motor vehicle -- if that'?s the target of ICE enforcement or priority, then that'?s the thing that will undermine community policing in our cities here.?"

The Connecticut DOC ?will? hold an inmate for ICE if the person has been convicted of a felony, or is a threat to public safety.

Credit notonemoredeportation.com
Esven Lima.

They will also turn over an inmate who has a previous deportation order. This criteria is the one that has the immigrant community worried.  

Megan Fountain of Unidad en Accion points to the case of Esven Lima, 20. "Esven Lima has no criminal record," she said, "but he was deported back in 2012, when he first traveled to the United States. For that reason, the Connecticut Department of Correction wants to honor the ICE detainer. The TRUST Act says the DOC can honor the ICE detainer if the person has a prior deportation in their history.?"

Lima was arrested in the spring, and charged with criminal mischief and third degree burglary. His advocates say he was falsely accused, the arrest the result of a landlord who called police in retaliation for being reported for housing code violations.

Credit Cornell University
Cornell University
Danielle Robertson Briand.

Attorney Danielle Robertson Briand of Esperanza Center for Law and Advocacy in Bridgeport said Lima could have paid his low bond amount months ago, but the TRUST Act has left him fearful. He remains at Bridgeport Correctional almost six months after his arrest. 

Robertson Briand said this limbo points to why the law needs to be re-worked. "?I do think the loophole undermines the intention of the Connecticut TRUST Act," she said, "and shows that it'?s a weaker version of what it could be.?"

Unidad en Accion said Governor Malloy and Lawlor have met with them to discuss Lima'?s situation. Lawlor would not talk on the record, only issuing a brief statement to say Connecticut'?s TRUST Act has "?dramatically limited the circumstances in which law enforcement honors ICE detention orders.?"

Lawlor said Lima'?s case presents some challenging issues and they are examining options, but none are an easy fix.

Nationally, from January through August of this year, ICE filed 105,000 requests to hold individuals. It said law enforcement refused eight percent of those detainers.

Over the last two years, the Connecticut Department of Correction has received 325 requests from ICE to hold inmates. In 70 percent of the cases, the DOC complied. 

Lucy leads Connecticut Public's strategies to deeply connect and build collaborations with community-focused organizations across the state.

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