Blog Archive

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"New Haven 30" case prompts change in federal immigration enforcement policy

By Gregory B. Hladky
Fairfield County Weekly
June 22, 2011

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has just issued new guidelines recommending against deportation of undocumented immigrants involved in pending civil rights and labor cases, a policy change that apparently stems from a controversial New Haven case.

The new policy memorandum was issued late last week by ICE Director John Morton and warns that it is “against ICE policy to remove individuals in the midst of a legitimate effort to protect their civil rights or civil liberties.”

The guidelines for federal prosecutors and ICE agents also recommend that particular attention should be given to individuals “who may be in a non-frivolous dispute with an employer, landlord or contractor” to avoid deportion while legitimate cases are underway.

Michael Wishnie, a professor at the Yale Law School, says the ICE policy change follows heavy lobbying pressure from national civil rights groups, labor unions and others that was triggered by efforts last year to deport Washington Colala.

Colala is an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who has two U.S. born children. He was one of 30 people picked up during controversial ICE raids in New Haven in 2007. He and others in that group filed lawsuits claiming federal agents violated their civil rights during the raids.

Last November, Colala was ordered by federal authorities to buy a ticket for Ecuador after his appeal of his deportation order was rejected by a federal court.

Wishnie says the group of Yale Law students representing Colala and the others began a campaign to delay his deportation on the grounds that his civil rights case was still pending and he wouldn’t be able to pursue it from Ecuador.

“We sought to mobilize a wide range of stakeholders in support of a more regular policy that would benefit foreign nationals seeking redress in the courts nationwide,” Wishnie said in an email comment about the change in ICE policy.

According to Wishnie, the June 17 memo from Morton “for the first time codifies this important principle” that immigrants with pending civil rights cases like Colala’s shouldn’t be deported before those cases are decided.

The memo also recommends federal officials not take deportation action against undocumented immigrants who may have been picked up by police as a witness to or victim of a crime such as domestic violence or human trafficking.

A federal immigration program known as “Secure Communities” or S-Comm has come under fire from civil rights organizations and others for resulting the deportation of thousands of undocumented immigrants who have come to the attention of local police, often for minor traffic incidents or infractions.

The program was intended to only deport violent or serious criminals, according to federal officials. But the governors of Massachusetts, New York and Illinois have asked to withdraw their states from the program, and activists in Connecticut are urging Gov. Dannel Malloy to follow suit.

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