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Conn. Senate Passes Bill Restricting Cooperation With ICE

Sen. Gary Winfield, left, defends the immigration bill. At right is an opponent, Sen. John Kissel.
Mark Pazniokas
Sen. Gary Winfield, left, defends the immigration bill. At right is an opponent, Sen. John Kissel.

Connecticut jumped back into the contentious national debate over immigration enforcement as Senate Democrats voted early Wednesday to pass a bill that would further restrict how police and court personnel can work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants.

The bill would expand the Trust Act, a measure that effectively rebuked President Barack Obama’s immigration enforcement policies when passed six years ago by prohibiting the detention of undocumented immigrants in the absence of a threat to public safety, an outstanding arrest warrant or a final order of deportation.

The new bill is a reaction to the even more aggressive polices of President Donald J. Trump, and its passage is a consequence of the gains Democrats made in 2018 in what was largely seen as a referendum on the Republican president. After sharing power for two years in an evenly divided Senate, Democrats now have a 22-14 majority.

With one Democrat absent due to a family emergency, the Senate voted 20-15 at 1:50 a.m. after nearly an  eight-hour debate to pass and send the measure to the House of Representatives. Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, voted with all 14 Republicans against the bill.

“It is a very scary time for a number of people in this country. We’re seeing an unprecedented attack on immigrants in this country,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. “Our state is better than that.”

The measure would prohibit the detention of anyone on a civil detainer lodged by ICE unless it is accompanied by a warrant signed by a state or federal judge. 

It also would limit the circumstances under which law enforcement officers may disclose confidential information to a federal immigration authority, and it no longer would allow local authorities to detain an undocumented immigrant on the basis of being a threat to public safety.

“Why would we do this? I’m dumbfounded,” said Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown.

“We’re talking about terrorists here,” said Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, referring to the elimination of the provision relating to persons deemed a public threat.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said elements of the legislation would appropriately strengthen the due process rights of immigrants facing civil detainer orders issued by ICE, and many Republicans would have supported a more tightly focused bill.

“You cannot hold somebody against their will for a civil matter,” Fasano said. But he added, “It just goes too far. It is so far reaching.”

Fasano said the bill also is confusing, providing a hard to follow map for law enforcement.

Democrats said the bill was necessary to underscore that immigrants, regardless of their legal status, can safety report crimes and otherwise cooperate with local police and trust that they will not be turned over to ICE.

“The ability to do local policing is impacted when immigrant communities or perceived immigrant communities would actually look at them as federal ICE agents or as extensions of those, and that restricts their ability to be able to take care of the local issues, whether there are criminal activities in the community, whether domestic abuse or human trafficking,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor.

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, a lead sponsor and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said preserving immigrants’ trust in the police was the reason for his support of the new bill and the original Trust Act of 2013.

“While we might say this particular community feels afraid to interact with the police,” Winfield said, “the crimes that happen in those communities will not always be limited to those communities.”

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said other states have adopted far more stringent Trust Acts since Connecticut passed its original bill in 2013.

Republicans countered that the new bill goes further, hampering the ability of local law enforcement to detain potentially dangerous immigrants — or to even truthfully answer when ICE inquires about an immigrant who may be in police custody.

“I believe the title of this bill is a misnomer. I don’t believe this is a Trust Act any more,” said Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia, the son of Guatemalan immigrants. “This bill should be titled, ‘Connecticut: Sanctuary State.’ ”

A series of Republican amendments to narrow the bill failed on party-line votes.

Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, said his constituents are solidly opposed to making Connecticut a sanctuary state.

“They don’t like sanctuary universities, they don’t want sanctuary cities and they certainly don’t want Connecticut to be a sanctuary state. Not because there’s an inherent dislike of illegal immigrants or undocumented aliens; that’s not it at all,” Kissel said. “They feel that if you want to come here, come here legally. But some people don’t want to wait in line. Some people don’t want to go through the hoops. Some people don’t want to deal with the hassle.”

Citing research by an immigration clinic at the Yale Law School, the Connecticut Immigration Rights Alliance complained in March that some judicial marshals, who provide security at state courthouses and lock-ups, enforced civil immigration detainers in possible violation of the 2013 law. 

A single marshal was responsible for enforcing more than half of ICE detainers over a one-year period reviewed from September 2016. But the group’s report indicated that 45 of the 50 persons detained for ICE were under a final order of removal, one of the criteria allowed in the 2013 law.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, Connecticut is one of nine states to have laws limiting the cooperation of local courts and law enforcement with ICE, while nine state have passed anti-sanctuary laws.

Kathleen Megan contributed to this report.

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