Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo
Alok Bhatt of CIRA (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Community members who say they have been victimized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement joined the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance Wednesday to ask the General Assembly to break the prison-to-deportation pipeline.

A handful of senators have introduced two bills to block what Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA) says is ICE’s exploitation of state and local police, prisons, and courthouses to target immigrant communities and undermine institutions established to uphold justice.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 692: An Act Concerning Law Enforcement Officers’ Responses To ICE Detainers.

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One bill would strengthen the 2013 Trust Act by prohibiting state and local law enforcement agents from detaining individuals on behalf of ICE, notifying ICE regarding custody status or release, or sharing confidential information unless ICE can produce a valid judicial warrant. Advocates believe the current law is too subjective and should mandate law enforcement not to cooperate with ICE.

The bill would also add provisions to increase transparency in ICE operations, as well as protections for incarcerated community members. The bill was debated in the Judiciary Committee last year but didn’t come up for a vote.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 61: An Act Concerning The Maximum Term Of Imprisonment For A Misdemeanor Offense.

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The other bill would reduce the maximum sentence of all misdemeanor convictions in Connecticut to 364 days, which could help immigrants avoid detention and deportation after their release from state custody.

On Wednesday, advocates for immigrants, immigrants who say they have been victimized by ICE, state legislators, and others held a press conference in the Legislative Office Building to build support.

“The State of Connecticut needs to correct its complicity in ICE’s attacks on our communities, said Alok Bhatt of CIRA. “Our state and local law enforcement agencies should have no part in enabling ICE’s racist removal agenda.”

Advocates say that shaving a day off misdemeanor sentences would lower the chance that immigrants convicted of lower-level crimes, such as passing a bad check or minor larceny charges, would face interaction with ICE agents.

That’s because a one-year misdemeanor sentence in Connecticut is classified by federal authorities as an “aggravated felony” and can mean deportation.

One of those who said he was a victim of overly aggressive ICE agents was New Haven resident Cristhian Sampedro.

“I had a small car accident a few months ago,” Sampedro said through a translator. “I didn’t have a license though I did have my ID, which I gave to the state trooper.”

“He handcuffed me and turned me over to detention agents. I was taken away and detained for 19 days,” Sampedro said. “While I was in detention I could only think of my family, especially my son.”

Ramis Wadood, who works at the Worker and Immigrant Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, said that when Connecticut first passed the Trust Act in 2013 “it was first law of its kind passed in the country.”

But since then, Wadood said, other states have “passed and modernized their statutes” as Connecticut has stood idle while the crackdown on immigrants has ramped up across the country.

Wadood and others at the press conference said that loopholes in the 2013 Trust Act law allow ICE to detain individuals without due process.

“The Trust Act needs updating so Connecticut can once again lead the way to protect Connecticut residents from draconian immigrant policies,” Wadood said.

One issue that proponents said they aren’t concerned about is whether federal funding would be in jeopardy if the state does indeed firm up its Trust Act.

“We’re just trying to keep everyone safe from unlawful activities of ICE,” Carlos Moreno, an organizer with the Working Families Party, said. “All ICE has to do is get a warrant and not operate outside the law.”

Under the current Trust Act, Connecticut law enforcement and correction officials are only supposed to comply with judicial warrants when it comes to immigration detention issues.

On reducing misdemeanor sentences to 364 days, CIRA said that four other states have recently enacted similar changes to their own laws and 10 others already have laws in place to cap misdemeanor jail time at 364 days.

Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, said a video that just came to light about an incident that happened a year ago in his hometown made him aware of how important it is to pass the two bills.

Elliott was referring to a WTNH-TV report that aired on Tuesday showing a video of a Hamden police officer having difficulty communicating with a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over after a chase. The officer used the word “ICE” in an apparent effort to intimidate the man.

The reference to ICE came after police accused the passenger of faking his inability to speak English.

The video has prompted the Hamden police chief to launch an internal investigation into the matter.

Hamden Mayor Curt Leng, in a Facebook post, said: “Certain actions taken and words spoken in the video have no business being part of Hamden law enforcement. Period.”

Elliot said the video raises concerns.

“Seeing something like that — it is a glance at what is happening,” Elliott said. “It’s important for me to listen to people that this affects.”

Elliott and Rep. Brandon McGee, co-chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, both said they believe the votes will be there this year to get both bills to the governor’s desk.

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On Tuesday, the Senate Democratic caucus also announced its support for legislation that would help make sure all immigrant children have access to an attorney.

In 2018, there were 971 filings initiated in Connecticut for juvenile deportation proceedings.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he wants to make sure each of those children have access to an attorney.

The proposal is expected to cost Connecticut about $800,000 a year.