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Bridgeport: Police Won't 'Track Down' Undocumented Immigrants

Bridgeport City Council member José Casco and Make the Road youth organizer Alison Martinez rally the crowd in support of naming Bridgeport a sanctuary city earlier this year.
Bridgeport City Council member José Casco and Make the Road youth organizer Alison Martinez rally the crowd in support of naming Bridgeport a sanctuary city earlier this year. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Despite a Tuesday rally to the contrary, there is no new agreement between the Bridgeport Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice to “track down undocumented immigrants” and report them to U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to a city spokesman.

“Any notion of that nature is pure spin,” Av Harris, the city’s director of legislative affairs/public policy, said in a statement.

The controversy stems from news that Bridgeport received a $1.875 million federal grant to help boost community policing.

Proceeds from the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services program grant can be used to "hire community policing officers, develop and test innovative policing strategies and provide training and technical assistance to community members, local government leaders, and all levels of law enforcement," U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday.

A total of $98,495,397 in grants went to 179 law enforcement agencies across the nation, allowing them to hire 802 additional full-time law enforcement officers, he said.

“Cities and states that cooperate with federal law enforcement make all of us safer by helping remove dangerous criminals from our communities,” said Sessions.

And therein lies the controversy.

Members of Make the Road CT, an organization fighting for immigrant justice, held the rally because the group believes the agreement would allow police to cooperate with ICE and leave undocumented immigrants at greater risk. The group believes it also flies in the face of the Welcoming City Resolution the city adopted earlier this year.

Harris said the city has applied for and received this type of grant “numerous times in the past.

“This COPS grant we applied for represents crucial federal dollars that we need to provide services for our community, hiring and retaining police officers to support the public safety of Bridgeport’s 150,000 residents,” he said. “The difference this year is that the Trump administration has politicized the grant application process. We were told early on that if Bridgeport was considered a ‘sanctuary city’ that it could jeopardize this and millions of other dollars in federal funding. And we were asked to cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies if asked. We signed the piece of paper agreeing to cooperate because we need those federal dollars.”

In May, Bridgeport considered becoming a sanctuary city, which would have limited the city’s cooperation with federal agencies to enforce immigration laws. Worried it might lose federal funding under the Trump administration, the city opted for the Welcoming City Resolution that allows for cooperation, but doesn’t create a focus on enforcement.

Harris said the police department has always cooperated with federal law enforcement agencies and will continue to do so.

Federal authorities in September modified the COPS program so that applicants would receive additional points "by certifying their willingness to cooperate with federal immigration authorities within their detention facilities," Sessions said.

"Cooperation may include providing access to detention facilities for an interview of aliens in the jurisdiction’s custody and providing advance notice of an alien’s release from custody upon request," the attorney general said.

But Harris said Bridgeport police have not “fundamentally changed our mission and we are not an arm or a branch of (ICE).

“If we investigate a crime or make an arrest, it is because we are trying to keep the city safe and protect human life,” he said. “Someone’s immigration status has very little if anything to do with public safety in Bridgeport. Our vulnerable undocumented population is part of the fabric of our city of immigrants, and we welcome all to Bridgeport. No one has any reason to fear.”

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