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HARTFORD — Police in Fairfield, Westport, Stratford, Trumbull and Norwalk have been assisting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in providing the locations of residents in a nationwide mass-surveillance program, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
A report released Wednesday by the ACLU’s Northern California office charges that in all, eight Connecticut law-enforcement agencies, including Southern Connecticut State University, and police in Enfield and Wethersfield have been providing the information in possible violation of the state’s 2013 TRUST law.
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In all, 80 law enforcement entities across the country have given ICE assistance, including location information through a wide-ranging license-plate database tracking daily movements of potential ICE targets, the ACLU said.
“This is the latest example of why Connecticut needs a multitude of safeguards to take control of police surveillance and limit local law enforcement’s cooperation with ICE,” said David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “All eight of these Connecticut police departments must immediately stop sharing their residents’ information with this rogue and immoral agency, and Connecticut’s legislature must step up to pass a statewide law to take control over police surveillance, create privacy protections if the state adopts electronic tolls, and pass a bill to strengthen the TRUST Act.”
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling and Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, in a joint statement Wednesday night, denied that there is an agreement with ICE.
“We do not report anyone’s immigration status,” Rilling and Kulhawik said. “On its face, it appears data from a cloud-based law enforcement database used by NPD was used by ICE to obtain information on specific individuals. That is not the intent of this database, as it is meant to assist law enforcement with criminal investigations.”
They said Norwalk is a welcoming city. “We proudly stand with immigrants and residents of all backgrounds and beliefs. Our diversity is one of the greatest strengths of our community. It is the express policy of the Norwalk Police Department to refrain from cooperating or assisting with federal immigration actions.”
Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said Wednesday that he had been unaware that the license-plate contractor has been sharing information with ICE, and planned to find out more on Thursday.
“It’s a valuable tool,” Cetran said in an evening interview. “I’m not looking for it to track immigrants. I don’t believe police in Connecticut, or around the country, are using this to track citizens going abouit their daily business.”
Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the legislative Judiciary Committee, said the report is disturbing, but he stressed that pending bills would close several loopholes in the current law. One proposal would require local government to report to the state data regarding individuals to whom local law enforcement has provided ICE access.
“If proven true, this report is very concerning,” he said. “Just last week, the Judiciary Committee heard heart-wrenching testimony as to how families in our state are being ripped apart by ICE’s extreme deportation tactics. Connecticut was a leader in passing the first TRUST Act as way of making sure individuals living in our state have an opportunity to seek help, to go to police officers when they are victims of crimes, and to interact with government without the fear of being deported. Local government should not be violating the spirit of that law and using their limited resources to do ICE’s job for it.”
The report was released Wednesday afternoon. Police departments in Fairfield, Westport, Stratford and Trumbull did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Reaction from immigrant advocates was strong, coming in the wake of a report from the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance that linked judicial marshals to possibly improper contact with ICE personnel.
“We already know how ICE is (a) rogue agency that is chasing people at courthouses and detaining people for traffic tickets. But this is a whole other level,” said Mary Elizabeth Smith of the advocacy group Make The Road CT. “Make the Road members travel, live, go to school, and work in the very towns mentioned in this report — Trumbull, Fairfield, and Stratford. No one should fear for their lives and safety while going about their daily lives. It is unacceptable for our local police departments to share license place information with ICE. The only reason for ICE to want this information (is) to strike fear in the hearts of our community, and we won’t stand for it.”
Another pending piece of legislation would limit misdemeanor sentences to 364 days, so a case would not trigger the interest of immigration officials.
“We are appalled by the findings of this report. Specifically, by the news that the police department at Southern Connecticut State University is sharing information with ICE,” said Jonathan Gonzalez, an SCSU alumnus and Connecticut Students for a Dream Policy Coordinator. “No student should feel at risk or threatened when seeking to pursue their education. When this happens, our students’ ability to learn is severely affected — which goes against the goals of our institutions of higher learning.”
The cooperation of SCSU police apparently counters the State University System protocol of 2017, Gonzalez said.
“The ACLU’s finding’s regarding state and local police sharing license plate information with ICE further expose the complicity of Connecticut law enforcement with a racist deportation regime,” said Alok Bhatt, Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance community defense coordinator. “While this information causes alarm, it should also galvanize us to escalate our fight to get ICE out of Connecticut. We need strong state policies, like the TRUST Act, to prevent such systematic violence, while further organizing to defend our own communities.”
The documents were obtained after the ACLU of Northern California filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in May of last year. The reports indicates that 9,000 ICE agents have access to a license plate-reader database run by a company called Vigilant Solutions.
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