Uncertainty not only for undocumented

The longer a dysfunctional system persists, the more ingrained it gets — in a family, an institution or a society — and the wider the circle it affects.

The failure of Congress to enact a comprehensive policy for controlling and penalizing illegal immigration while providing some with a track to legal status dates back to Republican failure to get behind President George W. Bush's proposal, followed by one from President Obama. While nothing changed legislatively, life went on — but as was clear last week on both the state and national levels, the wider society and its institutions are now sharing the effects of the same uncertainties as immigrant families.

The difference is not new laws; it is new law enforcement.

The Trump administration's directive to ICE to begin rounding up certain illegal immigrants has been going on for several months, with various degrees of cooperation from local and state law enforcement. Local police departments, including those in communities that have made themselves "sanctuary cities," have had to determine how to carry out their own lawful obligations with or without direct cooperation with ICE, whose mandate is federal law.

The dilemma has now spread to the courts. The Day reported last week that Connecticut Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers has asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly to order that people not be taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at state courthouses.

Rogers has not had an official answer, which may be better than a rejection of her request; Sessions has made clear his intentions of tough dealing with sanctuary cities, for example. But her letter indicates that the courts are experiencing the effects of people being afraid to testify; as she says, the fear of detention "may cause litigants, witnesses and interested parties to view our courtrooms as places to avoid, rather than as institutions of fair and impartial justice."

The chief justice may be unintentionally ironic, because a person who is seized by ICE under federal law at a state courthouse would find it hard to care about the distinction when losing his or her freedom.

Rogers has been an activist chief justice in the area of getting the public and the media, which reports in the courts, to understand how Connecticut's judiciary works. Like community policing, which is intended to emphasize public safety through familiarity, she has tried to present the courts as a place where things can be set straight, and individuals can get justice.

For the law-abiding, that has been an enlightened approach. But an undocumented individual may indeed be found to be violating federal law. Such a person seeking justice in, say, a domestic abuse case, may fear deportation more than a violent spouse. Or a witness to a crime, not wanting to risk ICE seizure, may not show up and the prosecution may not be able to make its case.

That's when society as a whole is threatened by the failure to punish potentially dangerous people.

What the chief justice is seeking, and what the administration seems unlikely to give, is a degree of predictability that will allow cases to go forward and justice to be served even if undocumented people are involved.

On Thursday, it seemed briefly as though President Trump was acting to relieve "Dreamers," undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as small children, by extending a 2012 Obama order that gave them two years of legal ability to work upon registering. Under DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, registration has been renewable.

On Friday, however, the White House made it clear that the president might still follow through on his campaign pledge to lift the work permits and deport those who held them.

Uncertainty for thousands seems OK with the administration, but it ignores the fact that it is really uncertainty for everyone: The courts, police, schools and employers must deal with people who are there one moment and possibly gone the next. That's dysfunction for all, and there seems to be little hope that Congress will fix it any time soon.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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