The mayor and police chief in Hartford are condemning U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who they said posed as police officers to try to detain an undocumented woman earlier this month.
Mayor Luke Bronin and Chief James Rovella said ICE agents attempted to lure a an undocumented woman to the city's public safety complex building on March 12 so they could detain her.
Bronin said two ICE agents arrived in the lobby with "no visible indication of their affiliation with ICE." The agents were wearing clothing that said "POLICE" on it, appearing to try to "create the impression that they were, in fact, local police."
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"When FBI shows up, their apparel says FBI, when DEA shows up, it says DEA," Bronin said in a statement. "In this case, you have ICE agents that say police and there is no visible identification."
Bronin said that if immigration officials had a "very good reason" to detain the woman they should work with city's police department, which would be willing to partner with them to keep the community safe.
However, Chief Rovella noted, it is misleading when ICE agents identify themselves as police and can damage the relationship that local officers have with the community.
“To protect our community, our police and other public safety officers need to foster a relationship of trust with all of our residents,” Bronin added. “Our police officers have worked hard to build that trust, and for ICE agents to present themselves as local police will undermine the hard work our department has done.”
The woman did not show up to meet the immigration officials and it is not clear what happened to her.
Immigration officials have employed similar tactics in California, The Los Angeles Times reported. In an exchanges captured on video and released by ICE, an immigration official in Los Angeles is seen knocking on a door and identifying himself as a police officer conducting an investigation.
In another incident, according to The Times, an undocumented father was detained near his daughter's school in Highland Park minutes after dropping her off. Cell phone video of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez's arrest by ICE agents wearing jackets that said "POLICE" was widely-shared on social media and prompted city leaders to pen a letter to the directors of the immigration services urging "in the strongest possible terms that ICE immediately cease this practice in our city."
The letter, cosigned by Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Atty. Mike Feuer and City Council President Herb Wesson, mirrored concerns raised by Rovelle and Bronin. The officials said the practice undermines decades of work by the Los Angeles Police Department to build trust within the city’s large immigrant community so that those in the country illegally can report crimes and offer information to police without fear of deportation.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice defended the agency's approach in a statement to the Times, saying ICE agents can, "as a standard practice … initially identify themselves as 'police' during an encounter because it is the universally recognized term for law enforcement and our personnel routinely interact with individuals from around the world."
A spokesman for Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance said the group feared actions like this after President Donald Trump, whose administration has vowed to crack down on immigration, took office.
In a statement Monday, CIRA accused ICE of employing “deceptive tactics for a long time, ripping families apart at front door steps, or while paying for traffic tickets at courthouses, or anyplace anyone would otherwise consider a safe environment.”
“But impersonating a police officer in order to detain and deport an undocumented immigrant is a new low, even for ICE. These attacks on our communities sow distrust, confusion and chaos. These are terror tactics, plain and simple,” CIRA said.
The organization is calling for the state to strengthening the Connecticut Trust Act, which they said would provide some protections for undocumented residents.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement responded to NBC Connecticut Wednesday:
“ICE agents and officers identify themselves as “police” during an encounter because it is the universally recognized term for law enforcement and our personnel routinely interact with individuals from around the world. In the often dangerous law enforcement arena, being able to immediately identify yourself as 'law enforcement,' may be a life-or-death issue. Anyone giving credence to the idea that an ICE officer is not a legitimate police officer, or that an ICE officer’s commands can be ignored or fought during an encounter, is endangering public safety and the very people they claim to support and represent. While the leaders of the ICE field office in Boston are more than happy to discuss our shared public safety mission with local police leadership in Hartford, Connecticut, ICE will continue to use best practices to ensure the safety of our personnel, as well as that of the public we engage on a daily basis," Shawn Neudauer, ICE spokesman for New England, said in a statement.