Christine Stuart photo
Alok Bhatt outside the governor’s office (Christine Stuart photo)

Members of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance dropped off a letter Thursday at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s capitol office to call attention to a “flaw” in the Correction Department’s policy on Immigration and Custom Enforcement detainer requests.

The policy paper argues that the Correction Department has discretion to release undocumented immigrants, if they pose no risk to public safety, Alok Bhatt, a legislative analyst for the Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, said Thursday.

The General Assembly passed the Trust Act in 2013, which prohibited law enforcement officers and the Correction Department from honoring certain immigration detainers under certain circumstances. However, the law did not apply to every situation.

Law enforcement can hold undocumented immigrants on ICE detainers if they are convicted felons, have previous deportation orders, or are on a watch list.

Bhatt and other members of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance are trying to get Malloy’s administration to issue a directive that would correct what they believe are flaws in that piece of legislation.

“We believe the most egregious flaw in the Trust Act is allowing folks with prior removals to be detained,” Bhatt said.

He said that “flaw” or “loophole” in the law is allowing the Correction Department to detain 21-year-old Norwalk resident Esvin Lima. Lima, originally from Guatemala, has been held for six months in Bridgeport Correctional Center. He is being held on a $1,000 bond. If he posts that bond he will be picked up by immigration officials and sent back to Guatemala.

“Prior removal doesn’t mean you’re a threat to public safety,” Bhatt said. “It just means that you … were in this country undocumented before and you were removed.”

“It’s a hypocrisy within the policy,” Bhatt added.

Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s top criminal justice adviser, has been working with the group to formulate a broad solution to the situation.

“We have met several times with the various advocates in this matter,” Lawlor said. “They and we are gathering information regarding best practices in other jurisdictions in order to inform any policy decision that Connecticut will make.”

The advocates have used Lima as an example, but there are several other individuals being held on similar detainers. Lawlor explained the policy has to be balanced, so it doesn’t adversely impact others in similar situations.

Bhatt admitted that when the legislature passed the Trust Act, advocates heralded its passage even though they were aware of the “loopholes.” He said they always planned to come back to the legislature to fix them.

“The work didn’t stop with the passage of the Trust Act,” Bhatt said Thursday.

He said they would continue to work on the issue until law enforcement “doesn’t honor any detainers unless they’re attached to an actual public safety issue. If you want to detain somebody, get a warrant.”

Bhatt’s group argues that these detainers were administratively issued and not signed by an immigration judge.