Blumenthal pushes to protect ‘sensitive locations’ for undocumented immigrants
NEW HAVEN — Sen. Richard Blumenthal has accused Immigration and Customs Enforcement of violating its policy of not arresting undocumented persons at sensitive locations, which is spreading fear in those communities.
The senator, along with 19 others, has introduced legislation that would address this, while they also sent a letter to the acting head of Homeland Security to clarify its position.
John Morton, the former head of ICE in 2011, issued a memo that directed his agents to avoid certain “sensitive locations,” when making arrests or searching suspected undocumented persons, unless approved by a supervisor or to respond to “exigent circumstances.”
Those locations include schools, places of worship, hospitals, rallies and demonstrations.
Blumenthal and others at a press conference Friday at the Columbus Family Academy in the Fair Haven neighborhood stressed the fear that such arrests instill in residents.
“Ice agents, even in New Haven, have conducted a series of events that may violate these policies and we want to make sure that there is respect for the law and that New Haven and Connecticut are protected against these draconian and abusive policies,” the senator said.
“We will stand strong to protect the rule of law and to compel the administration to respect its own rules,” he said.
Early on in the Trump administration, it reaffirmed the sensitive location policy, but also specifically said it would not avoid the interior of courthouses as requested by several states.
In June, Conneticut Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers asked the new administration to view courthouses as “sensitive locations” and not allow ICE officials to take custody of individuals in the public areas of these facilities. Immigration attorneys have reported that those arrests have continued, including in New Haven and Danbury.
Advocates at the press conference said there was an alleged attempt by ICE to enter a church in Danbury, but the agency refrained from doing so.
A spokesman for ICE said he knows of no violations of the sensitive location policy in Connecticut.
NPR reported last month that a couple in Texas was put into deportation proceedings after Custom and Border Protection agents escorted them to a Corpus Christi hospital where their 2-month old son underwent an emergency operation.
Other reports include the detention of six men in Virginia as they left a church homeless shelter; the removal of a woman from a hospital in Texas with a brain tumor to place her back in detention and the arrest of a father after he dropped his daughter off at school in Los Angeles.
Dr. Suzanne Lagarde, executive director of the Fair Haven Community Health Center, said the fear in Fair Haven is having a negative impact on their clients health.
“It is critically important to us that our patients feel safe within our four walls. We have spent 45-plus years trying to promote that and there is no question that over the past 10 months, that trust has been eroded somewhat. We try fervently to continue to reiterate to our patients that they are safe,” Lagarde said.
She thanked the stakeholders from Yale New Haven Hospital, the city, the legal community and advocates who have been working for months to help the undocumented in New Haven.
While the press conference was called to address the sensitive location policies, school and medical personnel also talked about the needs of Puerto Rican citizens starting to pour into New Haven to live with relatives given the destruction of the island by Hurricane Maria.
Lagarde said the situation on the island is a humanitarian crisis. “We are doing what we can. Despite what you are hearing from Washington, what we are hearing what is on the ground there is still horrific,” she said.
While President Trump gave himself a 10 in the U.S. efforts to help Puerto Rico, Blumenthal said: “I would give him a minus-10.”
Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said immigrants are a particularly vulnerable and unique population.
She said what they find is abusive partners often use “immigration status as a way to control, as a way to threaten” women.
Jarmoc said what the 18 domestic violence centers are finding is that undocumented victims are not seeking shelter for fear they will be part of a data base that will be shared with ICE.
She said one woman left transitional housing, taking her four U.S. children with her, because of this concern. Jarmoc said the information is fully confidential, according to law.
Abie Benitez, director of instruction for the New Haven Public Schools, said schools are the first place where immigrant families learn about democracy, “where they learn the American way is one of inclusion and not exclusion.”
She said the fear that their parents will be deported “is not fair for children.”
The end of DACA, Defered Action for Childhood Arrivals, also impacts young people who are graduating from the schools, as well as some of their teachers, she said.
“We need these people. They are part of their community and they continue to help us understand many things that we as U.S. citizens may not understand about that fear growing up,” Benitez said.
On the issue of students coming from Puerto Rico to the city schools, the number so far is 46, ranging from elementary grades through high school .