Christine Stuart photo
Wendy Hartling, Casey Chadwick’s mother, clutches a photo of her slain daughter (Christine Stuart photo)

Countering Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Democratic inaction on immigration, Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy introduced a bipartisan bill that aims to increase deportations of convicted criminals.

At a Hartford press conference, Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said the new law would put pressure on countries that refuse to repatriate their citizens who are convicted of crimes in the U.S.

The bill, called Casey’s Law, is named for a Norwalk woman who was murdered in 2015 by a Haitian national who was awaiting deportation. The bipartisan Senate bill is co-sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. Courtney said a companion bill will be introduced soon in the House.

“This bill is a response to a real-life tragedy,” Blumenthal said. “Casey Chadwick might well be alive today if her killer had been returned to Haiti rather than allowed to stay here illegally.”

The bill would give the U.S. State Department the authority to sanction countries that “systematically and unreasonably” refused to take back their citizens and require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to notify the department when countries were being uncooperative with repatriation.

There are currently 23 countries deemed by the Department of Homeland Security to be “recalcitrant” — not cooperating with U.S. deportation efforts. In the last three years, 8,275 people with criminal convictions have been released from ICE custody in the U.S. because no country would take them.

“We have to crack down on ICE and get the laws that are already here working more progressively,” said Casey Chadwick’s mother Wendy Hartling, who has become an advocate for homicide victims.

Under current laws, foreign nationals who commit crimes in the U.S. are supposed to be deported, but immigration officials can run into trouble if their home countries won’t accept them, as was the case with Chadwick’s killer Jean Jacques.

Jacques came to the U.S. illegally in the early 1990’s and served 17 years in prison for an attempted murder in Norwalk. He was supposed to be automatically deported upon his release from prison in 2010, but Haiti refused to take him back because he didn’t have a birth certificate.

Christine Stuart photo
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (Christine Stuart photo)

Because of a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can’t detain illegal immigrants that won’t be received by another country for more than six months. Haiti refused four times to accept Jacques, so he was held for six months and then ICE was forced to release him into the community. In June 2015, he stabbed 25-year-old Chadwick to death. He was sentenced to the maximum 60 years in prison earlier this year.

ICE still works to deport foreign nationals with criminal convictions like Jacques after they’re forced to release them, but there are thousands of cases and limited resources, according to an Inspector General’s report on the case.

“There were roughly three to four deportation officers supervising a caseload of 37,000 cases of people waiting for deportation,” Courtney said. He also said there was no prioritization of cases where the deportee had committed a serious crime.

“There was no metric, there was no criteria that was put into place by ICE. These deportation officers weren’t trying to deal with the most dangerous individuals, they were going for the cases that were easiest to deport . . . This case fell to the bottom of the pile,” he said.

Blumenthal and Courtney said that the State Department is almost never called upon to use diplomatic pressure against recalcitrant countries. They could find only one case from the 1990’s where an unsuccessful repatriation was referred from ICE to the State Department.

The Senate bill gives the State Department leeway in how it sanctions countries, ranging from warning letters to limiting or stopping travel visas allowed to a country.

Both Blumenthal and Courtney stressed that improving the deportation backlog is a bipartisan issue not related to the heated immigration debate in the presidential election.

“This is a bipartisan measure . . . We started work on this issue months ago. It should be regarded as completely independent of politics,” Blumenthal said. However, he said Congress would “bear culpability” for future crimes committed by undeported criminals if it failed to act.

In a statement, Cornyn agreed that “illegal immigrants convicted of violent crimes should not be left on our streets, and if other countries won’t cooperate in taking them back, there should be consequences.”