The Connecticut State Senate voted unanimously on Friday to substantially limit cooperation between local police departments and federal deportation officials. The House already approved the bill. It will now move to the governor, who has vowed to sign it. The state will be the first in the country to pass a version of the so-called Trust Act, which prohibits local authorities from detaining most non-citizens at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless the individual has been convicted of a felony or was already ordered deported.
The bill comes in response to the Secure Communities program, a federal-state data sharing program that sends finger print records from local arrests to the federal government. Though ICE has consistently claimed that it uses the program to target people with criminal convictions, over half of those removed from the country under the program were charged with no crime or a minor violation.
"It's now unanimous in Connecticut: not one more innocent person should be racially profiled and turned over to Immigration Customs Enforcement," Megan Fountain of the group Unidad Latina en Acción said in a statement. "Not one more worker should be unable to report abuse to the police."
Critics say S-Comm feeds on unaccountable local policing, including the use of racial profiling and breeds fear in immigrant communities. A recent study by a University of Illinois Chicago professor found that 44% of the 1000 immigrants and Latinos surveyed said the program made them less likely to contact cops if they are the victims of crime. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said that local immigration enforcement programs make them fearful of leaving their home.
Since the S-Comm program was first rolled out in 2008, 140,000 of the 266,000 people deported through data sharing were convicted of no criminal charge or a low-level charge. The Connecticut legislation will limit local compliance with the program to cases involving serious convictions, as well as to people with outstanding arrest warrants, existing deportation orders, or who've been listed on federal gang and terrorism databases. The bill also permits local authorities to detain an immigrant at ICE's request if cops deem them to "present an unacceptable risk to public safety."
A verison of the Trust Act has been introduced in other states, including California, where California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill last year. A more limited version has been introduced in the California state legislature. As of March of this year, 80,000 people had been deported from California through S-Comm. In the two years it's been operational in Connecticut, where Gov. Dan Malloy has said he will sign the bill into law, just 456 immigrants were removed from that state. Immigrant rights advocates say that's hundreds too many.
"This is a monumental victory for the immigrant rights movement, Ana Maria Rivera, of the New Haven group Junta for Progressive Action, said in a statement. "The fact that advocates, our Governor and the entire Connecticut legislature worked together to send the message to ICE that we will not allow our communities to be separated is historic."
The Connecticut bill is the second in a week in that state to protect the rights of uncodumented immigrants. On Thursday, the state legislature there passed a bill that let's all residents, incuding those lacking immigration papers, to apply for driver's licenses.