Immigration enforcement ramping up in Connecticut

FILE - In this Thursday, March 6, 2015, photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter an apartment complex looking for a specific undocumented immigrant convicted of a felony during an early morning operation in Dallas. The Department of Homeland Security unveiled memos this week that that greatly expand the number of undocumented immigrants considered a priority.. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
FILE - In this Thursday, March 6, 2015, photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter an apartment complex looking for a specific undocumented immigrant convicted of a felony during an early morning operation in Dallas. The Department of Homeland Security unveiled memos this week that that greatly expand the number of undocumented immigrants considered a priority.. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

It’s been just more than one day since the Trump administration unveiled Homeland Security Department memos that greatly expand the number of undocumented immigrants enforcement agencies should consider a priority.

In Connecticut, however, immigration experts said they began noticing a difference in Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity more than a week ago.

Whereas ICE agents used to focus largely on tracking down undocumented immigrants with serious criminal convictions, last week they also started detaining those with pending cases of all varieties.

When The Day contacted the agency, Shawn Neudauer, a public affairs officer for the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, said the statewide actions are in accordance with the memos signed by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

Those documents call for all immigrants in the country illegally who are convicted of or charged with a crime — and even those who “have committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense” — to be considered enforcement priorities.

"Connecticut is no different than any other area addressed by those documents," Neudauer said in an email Wednesday. He declined to give any further details of "future operational postures or activities," citing security concerns.

While those in the country illegally because they overstayed a visa don’t automatically fall on the priority list, those who crossed the border illegally, a criminal offense, do.

Some have been picked up in court, where they were appearing for scheduled hearings in their pending cases, according to Aleksandr Troyb, chair of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Others, Troyb said, were collected when they showed up for probation meetings. Still more were met by ICE agents when they went to classes about things such as drugs and alcohol or family violence — courses that, upon completion, would result in the dismissal of their cases.

The latter, he said, is troubling because lawyers often advise people to attend the classes so they can avoid entering a guilty plea.

Troyb said nailing down numbers to verify the uptick in enforcement is tough, especially because his organization is unlikely to hear about cases in which detainees don’t obtain or reach out to a lawyer.

Still, he said he’s “certain” ICE has detained more than the normal number of people in the past week.

Troyb, noting that many cases he has seen involve nonviolent individuals who have kids who are U.S. citizens, is concerned about the idea someone could be deported for being charged with a crime.

He pointed to a case he took on in the past in which an undocumented man was accused of assaulting another man. Surveillance video later showed the undocumented man was the victim.

“We need to look at this through the prism of due process afforded to all of us,” Troyb said. “He probably would have been removed (from the country) if that happened today.”

According to Marcy Levine-Sevilla, an attorney who works in the fields of criminal defense and immigration, ICE has picked up at least two people in New London over the last week or so.

Levine-Sevilla said the two she knows of are men in their 20s or 30s, one from Ecuador and one from the Dominican Republic. ICE agents, she said, detained one at the adult probation office on Williams Street and the other at New London Superior Court, where he had an appearance for a pending case.

Both Levine-Sevilla and Troyb said ICE’s actions in the state so far have been targeted — there’s no evidence any raids have happened here — and likely couldn’t happen without some level of local cooperation, whether from state employees, municipal employees or other residents.

“Based on some of the reports I’m seeing ... it’s difficult for me to believe there’s no cooperation,” Troyb said, noting that he can’t confirm whether there has been. “It would be a tremendous coincidence if I just happened to show up at the right place without somebody having provided information on when it was happening and where.”

New London Mayor Michael Passero said he can’t speak for what might happen at offices such as adult probation, which are state-run, but it is and has been for years the policy in New London to stay away from the civilian enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Passero said police would be involved if an undocumented immigrant were part of a criminal investigation. Even then, that person’s status would only come up when relevant, such as if it leads officials to believe the person is a flight risk.

Otherwise, city agencies aren’t interested in hearing about a person’s status because it isn’t relevant to their missions, he said.

“We don’t want any residents to be victims of crime in our city,” Passero said, “and they’re likely to be if they don’t report it because they’re afraid. We have been trying to get that message out.”

In a memo sent Wednesday morning, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked superintendents to consult with their district attorneys and create a policy for handling requests for information about or access to students.

Malloy also sent a memo to law enforcement personnel that noted state and local police agencies “aren’t required to engage in the enforcement of federal immigration law.” It suggested personnel who receive requests for assistance outside of what’s “customary and routine” should forward the requests to their superiors.

In light of the stricter enforcement guidelines, Troyb said undocumented immigrants should have a plan ready to go, should they be detained by ICE officers.

Parts of that plan, he said, should include preparing a power of attorney, telling children whom to call if a parent doesn’t come home and having a guardian ready to step in. Undocumented immigrants further should prepare instructions about their children’s schools, medications and other pertinent information. Those caring for elderly parents should do something similar.

Troyb also advised undocumented immigrant parents, who often wait until their kids start asking for driver’s licenses at 16 to tell them about their status, to have that conversation sooner. If they don’t know they’re undocumented, he reasoned, some children may partake in underage drinking or another such infraction without knowing it could get them deported.

Troyb said he's worried about the impact the Trump administration's new guidelines could have in a statewide immigration court system where it already can take years to get a final hearing.

Members of the organizations to which Troyb's group usually refers those needing legal advice or representation also are bogged down. Some of them, citing monthslong wait times, have asked Troyb to route those in need through his organization instead.

And there's the issue of finding places for those who are detained to stay as their cases proceed.

In its memos, the Department of Homeland Security calls on the director of ICE to "expeditiously hire 10,000 agents and officers, as well as additional operational and mission support and legal staff necessary to hire and support their activities."

It's not clear how quickly that could happen.

l.boyle@theday.com

Advice for undocumented immigrants from the Connecticut Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association:

- Prepare a plan of action should you be detained by ICE officials.

- Tell your children if they are undocumented and do not yet know but are old enough to understand.

- Do not seek the services of notaries public, or "notarios," who, although they may suggest they are, are not licensed in the United States to give legal advice or represent people in immigration proceedings.

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