As President Donald Trump moves forward with a campaign promise to crack down on undocumented immigrants, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is reminding school and law enforcement leaders that they don’t have to enforce federal immigration laws.
The governor’s administration sent memos to school superintendents and chiefs of police this week with recommendations on how they should respond to requests from the Department of Homeland Security and how they should interact with agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Groups that work with undocumented immigrants praised Malloy for reaffirming a commitment to that community in the wake of memos issued by Homeland Security describing sweeping new guidelines to ramp up deportations under an executive order Trump signed last month.
“The message is loud and clear, the state of Connecticut will not allow the Trump administration’s racist and xenophobic actions to destroy our community,” Ana Maria Rivera-Forastieri, director of advocacy at Junta for Progressive Action, a New Haven-based organization that works with Latinos, said in a written statement.
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Malloy, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, has been a frequent critic of Trump’s immigration policies, even saying in his State of the State address last month, “Regardless of whether your family settled in Connecticut 300 years ago or three days ago, you are welcome here.”
“I think it’s a message that leaders need to communicate,” Stamford Superintendent Earl Kim said of the memo sent to school districts. “It’s a stand that they take whether popular or not. I think as much as it is a legal document, it’s also a moral statement for the people of Connecticut. It’s a symbolic thing, but it’s important for people to hear.”
The memos don’t represent a change in policy for many school districts and police departments, but Jesus Morales Sánchez, a statewide organizer with the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, said the group was happy to see the governor “advocating for the things that we’re fighting for,” particularly when there’s concern about threats to strip federal funding from cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents.
Under state law, the requirements are very specific about when state or local police or the Department of Correction can hold someone in custody solely based on a request from ICE.
The Connecticut Trust Act, passed in 2013, says law enforcement can only detain an individual on a violation of federal immigration law if they have been convicted of a felony, are subject to pending criminal charges and have not posted bond, have an outstanding arrest warrant, are a known gang member, are on a terror watch list, are subject to a final order of deportation or present an unacceptable risk to public safety.
“Law enforcement should not take action that is solely to enforce federal immigration law,” Malloy and two of his commissioners wrote in the memo to police chiefs. “The federal government cannot mandate states to investigate and enforce actions that have no nexus to the enforcement of Connecticut law or local ordinances.”
Malloy’s memo is only a recommendation, and it doesn’t mean that police departments can’t work with ICE.
“This is an individual community practice or decision to be made,” said Monroe police Chief John Salvatore, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. But Salvatore noted that most departments already were not expending a lot of resources or time on immigration issues.
Although Trump has moved to reinstate a program that allows ICE to partner with local law enforcement to locate and catch undocumented immigrants, John DeCarlo, the former chief of police in Branford and a professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, said he didn’t expect many police departments in the state to participate.
“It’s a blue state and I don’t know that you’ll see many people in local governments signing on to a program like this,” DeCarlo said.
The 287(g) program can also hurt relationships between local police and the communities they serve, he said. Malloy’s memo said he encouraged all state law enforcement agencies not to participate in the program.
“When you look at the way that we’re trying to police in the United States … and then we have police officers going in and doing immigration raids … it flies in the face of community policing in general,” DeCarlo said.
Camila Bortolleto, policy director for Connecticut Students for a Dream, which has been pushing to get undocumented college students access to financial aid, praised Malloy for making it clear that state and local law enforcement don’t need to enforce immigration law.
“If local law enforcement agencies choose to enforce federal immigration law, it will undermine community safety,” she said in a written statement. “We will continue organizing to win sanctuary spaces and build deportation defense networks so that we can all live a life with dignity and a life without fear.”
In the memo to superintendents, Malloy and his education commissioner, Dianna R. Wentzell, said they believed the Trump administration would continue to follow Obama’s “sensitive locations” policy, which puts schools off limits for immigration enforcement. Still, “we encourage you to consider having a plan in place in the event that ICE agents come to one of your schools requesting information about or access to a student,” Malloy and Wentzell wrote.
Other recommendations included contacting an attorney if an ICE agent shows up at a school, confirming that agents have a warrant before letting them into the school and if an agent presents a warrant, reviewing it carefully “to determine exactly what it authorizes ICE to do, and who issued it.”
“We have heard anecdotally that families may be keeping kids home from school out of fear of immigration actions,” said Abbe Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. “This letter is meant to help districts address those concerns and provide resources to families about their rights related to immigration matters.”
William Clark, chief operating officer for New Haven Public Schools, said that Malloy’s letter doesn’t raise any new issues and is very much the same as the instruction and training given to school staff and leaders in New Haven.
However, he said it’s “important for the community and the folks in the trench to hear it from their elected officials and to have that solidarity and support. I think we certainly feel supported by the governor and law enforcement in the guidelines they set out.”
Clark says he continues to hear many concerns and fears from families, the community and school staff about the immigration issue. “Every morning there is a new headline,” he said. “People are on the edge.”
Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Hartford’s acting superintendent of schools, reiterated the city’s support for undocumented students in a video message on the district’s website.
“Hartford’s legal and moral obligation to educate all children will not be derailed by any of the language in recent presidential executive orders,” she said. “We want each and every student to be in school and ready to learn in safe environment.”
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