Wednesday, 17 July 2024 21:18

Added Protections for Undocumented Immigrants Sought

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A one-day change in a prison term for a minor crime involving an undocumented immigrant could result in sending that person to federal authorities for deportation, activists said at a legislative hearing Monday.

Connecticut changed its law two years ago in an effort to prevent undocumented immigrants from being referred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for minor offenses, or even for just being a witness to a crime.

But the new law contained loopholes, according to immigration activists testifying before the legislature's Judiciary Committee.

"It wasn't enough," said John Lugo, an organizer for Unidad Latina en Accion, a New Haven-based group.

Among the proposed additional protections for immigrants include reducing the maximum sentence judges can impose for certain misdemeanors from one year to 364 days. Currently, a one-year sentence for those crimes, if they involve an undocumented immigrant, could lead to a referral to ICE and a deportation order.

Another proposal would specifically prevent Connecticut law enforcement and judicial officials from informing ICE about the custody status of anyone subject to a federal order to be detained for immigration issues, or responding to federal immigration detention requests.

Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane opposed the alteration in maximum penalties for those types of misdemeanors. He said it would deprive judges of the option of referring to federal authorities someone convicted of a serious misdemeanor, such as third-degree assault or reckless endangerment.

"I believe a person would be ineligible for deportation … if the sentence is 364 days," Kane said.

Immigrants and their families and supporters rallied outside the Legislative Office Building Monday to call for the additional protections and to celebrate the release from ICE custody of Hartford resident Pedro Linares, an undocumented immigrant.

Linares, who is married to a U.S. citizen and has three children who are legal permanent residents, was arrested in 2012 by state liquor officials for selling a beer to someone with a fake ID. He was sentenced to two days of community service, and the charges against him were erased after he completed that service.

But Linares was reported to federal authorities, told to report regularly and was taken into custody in February. He was told he was being deported to his native Dominican Republic. On March 26, just three hours before Linares was scheduled to be put aboard a plane for deportation, he was released after requests by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, other officials and supporters.

 Lugo and other activists urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would stop state law enforcement and judicial officials from notifying ICE about the status of an undocumented immigrant in state custody, and to prevent Connecticut law enforcement from responding to federal immigration detention requests.

Allison Martinez, a member of Connecticut Students for a Dream, said such added protections would help remove "the constant fear" many Connecticut immigrants have of dealing with police and the courts. She said the "undocumented immigrant community … has a right to feel protected by police."

Megan Fountain, a volunteer with Unidad Latina en Accion, said the proposed legislation would bring state law into accordance with protections for immigrants recently adopted by East Haven Police. East Haven was the target of a major federal civil rights investigation that found that local police had engaged in racial profiling and abuse of Hispanics and other minorities for years.

Mark Reid, a U.S. Army Reserve veteran and a native of Jamaica, testified that he was held by ICE for 18 months after serving time in Connecticut for drug offenses. He and others in a similar situation filed a federal lawsuit to prevent their deportation.

"Though I have fulfilled my obligations to the State of Connecticut's justice system, and though I have been found by the Board of Immigration Appeals to have deserved not to be deported, my incarceration by the Department of Homeland Security has cost me quite a lot," said Reid, a New Haven resident.

Reid said his immigration troubles hurt his relationship with his teenage daughter and has made it more difficult to turn his life around after leaving prison.


Source: Hartford Courant

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