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Connecticut Leads the Way on Immigration TRUST Act as California Considers It

Credit Duffman / Wikimedia Commons

Immigrant advocates are waiting to see whether California Governor Jerry Brown will sign the TRUST Act into law. The bill would prevent police from holding undocumented residents for immigration officials if they haven't committed serious crimes.

Connecticut passed its version of the law this summer. In July, Connecticut became the first state to enact a version of the TRUST Act. The legislation was spurred by the arrest and long detention of an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. His sister Juana Islas explains, "I don't trust the police. I'm afraid because of what happened to my brother. He was walking past a robbery ..."

Juana's brother, Josemaria Islas, of New Haven spent one year behind bars after being arrested for a theft he didn't commit. The charge was eventually dismissed but instead of going free, marshals turned Islas over to ICE.

That sparked an intense campaign to set limits on how law enforcement cooperates with immigration authorities. A coalition of local immigrant advocates, including Unidad Latina en Acion and Junta for Progressive Action, worked to tell Islas' story. They especially stressed that Islas was not a violent criminal, and persuaded Connecticut's two senators to lobby for him. Meanwhile, state lawmakers unanimously passed a bill that allows law enforcement to hand over undocumented immigrants only if they've been convicted of a felony.

All the efforts paid off this summer when ICE released Islas. It was the same day Governor Dannel Malloy signed the TRUST Act into law.

Megan Fountain of Unidad says the TRUST Act is a step in the right direction but the real change needs to come from the Obama administration. "They're the ones that started the deportation dragnet," she says, "and they're the ones that have the power to stop it."

Advocates are hailing another measure also passed this year. They'll be able to apply for drivers licenses in 2015. Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut was a leader on the issue. Member Jose Cuapio of East Haven says grassroots efforts make all the difference while they wait for federal immigration reform. "We never know if we can win," he says, "but at least we start trying to find small roads, and one day we can be there."

There are an estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants living in Connecticut.

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