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Case of slain Norwich woman prompts 'Casey's Law' proposal

Hartford — The mother of murder victim Casey Chadwick moved a step closer Monday to her goal of influencing legislation to enforce deportation of violent criminals when U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, announced a proposed bill to hold countries accountable when they refuse to accept citizens deported from the United States.

The Remedies for Refusal of Repatriation Act, which Blumenthal, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy,  D-Conn., and Republican Sen. John Cornyn from Texas introduced last week before lawmakers recessed for the summer, would establish criteria to identify and hold accountable countries that "systematically refuse or delay the repatriation of their citizens who have been convicted of a violent crime or who pose a threat to public safety." The countries could face sanctions up to and including denial of visas to their citizens wishing to travel to the United States.

"Casey's Law," as it has been nicknamed, also would require officials from U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement to communicate with the Department of State when countries reject deported criminals.

Chadwick, 25, was fatally stabbed at her Norwich apartment on June 15, 2015, by Jean Jacques, a Haitian national who had previously served a 16-year prison sentence for attempted murder. Jacques was found guilty of murdering Chadwick at a trial in New London Superior Court this spring and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

After Chadwick's death, her family learned that customs officials had detained Jacques after his initial prison stint but later released him because Haitian officials refused to accept him back into the country and a U.S. Supreme Court decision limits the time detainees can be held.

Blumenthal said ICE made four attempts to deport Jacques, who had been living illegally in the United States since 1992, when he was interdicted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Haitian officials said they could not accept Jacques because he had no birth certificate.

Chadwick's mother, Wendy Hartling, who has worked with New London attorney Chester Fairlie to reform immigration policy, said she would rather have her daughter back, but that the bill still means a lot to her family.

Standing with the congressmen and Fairlie, she displayed a photograph of her brown-eyed daughter, whose death she said could have breen prevented had ICE done its job. Chadwick's father, Jeffrey Chadwick, also attended Monday's press conference at the Legislative Office Building.

"We really need to crack down on ICE and getting laws that are already here working progressively," Hartling said.

A recent report by the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security found that Jacques, released on "non-detention status," was being supervised by ICE's Newark bureau, where just a few caseworkers were overseeing 37,000 cases. Courtney said Jacques case had fallen to the bottom and there was "a complete disconnect" between ICE and the State Department.

"These caseworkers were not looking at the most dangerous individuals," said Courtney. "As the Inspector General's report indicates, they were going for the cases that were the easiest to repatriate."

The exact number of violent criminals released after failed deportation is unknown, though it is estimated in the tens of thousands.

Blumenthal and Courtney, both Democrats, fielded questions about the timing of the proposal, given Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's emphasis on cracking down on illegal immigration. Courtney said the bill was not a "knee-jerk reaction," noting the inspector general's investigation had provided key information.

Fairlie said there are 12 countries that won't repatriate their citizens after deportation from the United States for an aggravated crime. The Haitian government is not one of them, he said, having entered into a treaty with the U.S. to take back its citizens. He said the bill could undergo several revisions as it makes its way through Congress, and that tying the bill to foreign aid is still under discussion.

"This is a good start," Fairlie said.

He said the United States successfully deports about 235,000 people a year and that there are an estimated 20,000 failed deportations yearly.

"Sometimes out of tragedy something helpful can arise," Fairlie said.

The lawmakers will return to work in September, and Hartling and Fairlie are hoping they will take quick action on the proposal.

k.florin@theday.com 

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