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State further restricts police cooperation on immigration

June 6, 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut is further limiting local law enforcement’s latitude to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, giving the state what one of the sponsors of the legislation says is one of the nation’s toughest such policies.

The new measures, passed by the state legislature, will reduce the number of instances in which local law enforcement can detain an immigrant without a warrant. Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, has said he will sign them into law.

The legislation was passed May 30 and comes several years after the state adopted ground rules for when police are allowed to detain immigrants on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“With the passing of the bills, we have one of the more restrictive policies on when local and state law enforcement will cooperate with ICE,” said state Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation.

The Trust Act, adopted in Connecticut in 2013, gave officers wide discretion on whether to comply with a detainer request and set seven scenarios in which a warrant was not needed. The new legislation prohibits police from detaining somebody based only on immigration detainer unless the individual is convicted of a felony, is on a terrorist watch list, or the warrant is backed by a judicial warrant.

Stafstrom said over the years that loopholes have been discovered, like local law enforcement officers complying with a detainer request if they felt an individual was a risk to public safety, which could be very subjective from officer to officer.

The legislation also limits information-sharing with ICE and requires law enforcement to tell people when ICE has requested their detention.

Farmington Police Chief Paul Melanson said that normally when arresting someone, officers do not worry about the person’s immigration status. Melanson said he isn’t sure what the future is for federal grant money, some of which is dependent on complying with ICE.

It is another example of several states passing bills that conflict with President Donald Trump and his administration’s view of working with local law enforcement and immigration practices.

Naugatuck Republican state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas challenged the legislation on the House floor, stating it effectively makes Connecticut a sanctuary state that restricts cooperation and engagement with sharing information with the federal government.

In a statement, Rembibas said the legislation will make it more difficult for police to do their job and compromise public safety.

“Today, far too many lawmakers have become fixated on shielding illegal immigrants at the expense of the very people who voted them into office to keep them safe,” Rembibas said.

Alice Kinsman, a senior staff attorney for Bridgeport-based nonprofit the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, said bills will help ensure due process for immigrants.

“Coming from the perspective of an immigration attorney who’s worked for nine years with vulnerable immigrants across the state, I’m less concerned about the (potential) conflict with the current administration or the current president. ... They themselves have created a lot of conflict,” Kinsman said, adding local law enforcement is not expected or funded to enforce immigration law. “That’s federal law enforcement co-opting local law enforcement to do their job.”

Kinsman said the current administration has created an atmosphere of fear among immigrants that stops them from coming forward to report a crime they witnessed — or were a victim.

“These modifications strengthen the important relationship between local law enforcement and their communities,” Lamont said. “Passing on the responsibilities of the federal government to local law enforcement agencies stretches limited resources even further and shifts attention away from their main focus, which is to maintain the safety of our neighborhoods.”

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Chris Ehrmann is a corps member for Report for America , a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage, in a partnership with The Associated Press for Connecticut. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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