Advocates urge shorter sentences for immigrants
HARTFORD — Immigration advocates and Yale Law School students urged an independent state criminal justice agency to recommend reducing misdemeanor sentences from 365 to 364 days in an effort to stem deportations.
That one day would give federal immigration judges more discretion in deportation hearings, the Sentencing Commission was told this week.
The one-day reduction in sentencing, recommended by the commission last year, made it through the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, but not through the full General Assembly.
It was one of eight issues the Sentencing Commission could again consider recommending to the General Assembly and Gov.-elect Ned Lamont next year.
Advocates told the commission that shaving one day off the misdemeanor sentences would lower the chance immigrants convicted of lower level crimes, such as passing a bad check or minor larceny charges, would face interaction with Un U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. A one-year misdemeanor sentence in Connecticut is classified by federal authorities as an “aggravated felony” and can mean deportation.
Samantha Smith, a law student intern at the Yale Law School, told the commission, “This modest change would have a big impact on Connecticut’s immigrant community.”
Smith said several other states have recognized the law is unjust and have adopted the 364-day rule. She cited California, Nevada, Washington and Oregon as states that have made the change.
“This reform would simplify the plea bargaining process,” Smith told the commission. “This bill also strengthens state sovereignty. We urge you to help Connecticut join other states in making this modest but meaningful change.”
Jason Ramos, supervisor of the migrant care plan for the Consulate of Ecuador, located in New Haven, urged the commission again to support the oneday change in the law.
“The scale of this is huge,” Ramos said. He said misdemeanor arrests that triggered the events are generally minor crimes.
“People commit mistakes — as we all do,” Ramos said. The law the way it is currently enforced “disproportionately targets” immigrants, he said.
“When someone is sentenced they are now being targeted by ICE.”
Ramos said the immigrants are trying to live their lives and feel regretful for their crime.
“This very modest change can have a huge effect on the state, too,” Ramos said. “This is a benefit to the whole community,” he said, noting when ICE takes a family’s breadwinner away it creates problems for the family left behind, which eventually become problems the state has to take over.
By adopting the 364-day rule, Ramos said, Connecticut would be a “truly progressive state.”
The commission is considering expanding voting rights to convicted felons on parole and studying the possibility of facilitating voting “by eligible persons who are incarcerated.”
Last year, the House debated and tabled a bill that would restore voting rights to parolees who are serving their sentences.
The issue is likely to come up again this year with or without a recommendation from the commission.
In addition, the commission is looking at moving Connecticut from a conviction-based sex offender registry to a risk-based registry.
Connecticut is one of the few states that does not allow an individual an opportunity to be removed from its sex offender registry. The commission is proposing having all sex offenders register, but the length of time on the registry would be reduced based on whether they meet certain requirements.
The commission plans to meet at 2 p.m. Dec. 19.