By Ana Arellano
Work on two notorious Connecticut cases involving immigrant Latinos taken without warrant has earned the Yale Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic the annual community service award from the CT Hispanic Bar Association.
Karem M. Friedman, vice president of the CHBA, said in an email the clinic was selected “in large part due to the pivotal role [it] has played representing Latino immigrants in Connecticut who have endured civil right violations at the hands of local authorities and immigration agents.”
Two particular cases taken on by the clinic were considered especially significant by the CHBA. In 2006, local police in Danbury rounded up a group of Latino day laborers and delivered them to the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This case is often referred to as the “Danbury 11.” In 2007, ICE raided four homes in the Fair Haven section of New Haven, taking custody of the immigrant Latinos without consent or Warrant.
Professor Michael Wishnie formally established the clinic in 2007. However, the effort to protect immigrants was already underway when he and a group of students began to represent the Danbury 11. Now Wishnie, Professor Ahmad Muneer, and Associate Research Law Scholar Annie Lai teach and supervise the Yale Law School Students, who receive course credit for the clinic. WIRAC provides its services without charge.
“There were some similarities and there were some important differences,” says Wishnie about the Danbury 11 and the New Haven raids. The Danbury incident “grew out of a whole series of struggles between the mayor and the Latino community,” says Wishnie. “Some [were] focused on the day laborers who gathered at Kennedy park in Danbury, others had to do with volleyball games and housing code enforcement.” Wishnie gives as examples.
As a consequence, Mayor Mark Boughton “was targeting them,” adds Wishnie. Boughton was unsuccessful in deputizing the police so that they could perform immigration law enforcement functions, but that did not stop a Danbury police officer from posing as a contractor, rounding up a group of Latino immigrant day laborers, and handing them over to ICE.
In the New Haven raids, local police were completely excluded, and did not even know of the raid until the last minute, when an ICE agent called 911. “It was a gross violation of ICE’s protocol and anyone’s notion of good policing,” says Wishnie. Two days earlier, the city approved I.D. cards for everyone in New Haven, regardless of their immigration status. ICE denied any relationship between the city’s decision and the raids.
The Danbury and New Haven incidents both involved a “unit of ICE called Fugitives Operations Team or F.O.T.,” says Wishnie. F.O.T.’s charge was to apprehend dangerous criminal fugitives, and when they were unable to meet their quota of apprehending 1,000 “dangerous criminal fugitives, fugitives meaning that someone has already been ordered moved and has not left the country,” says Wishnie, “ICE said they could count 500 non-criminal, non-dangerous, non-fugitives” to their goal.
Students in the clinic represent immigrants, low-wage workers, and their organizations in labor, immigration, criminal justice, civil rights, and other matters. All students handle at least one litigation and one non-litigation matter, and have the opportunity to explore multiple practice areas. The clinic’s seminar meets weekly and is centered on a practice-oriented examination of advocacy on behalf of workers, immigrants, and social movements, and an extended analysis of community and social justice lawyering.
People come to the clinic for help. It does not seek out cases. If they come as individuals, the legal clinic sends them to a community group – such as a church, a social service agency, or a community action group.
The exemplary work of the clinic in these two instances of injustice, as well as many others, shows how “WIRAC’s role in safeguarding the rights of Latino immigrants certainly demonstrates CHBA’s investment of time and effort,” in Friedman’s words.
Wishnie has reason to believe “that the conflict in Danbury and over the New Haven raids inspired some ICE internal reforms,” he says. He is justifiably proud of the clinic, including Ahmad, Lai, and the students. “I was thrilled to receive the call,” he says, when he was notified by the CHBA that WIRAC had won the Community Service Award. He and the other clinic leaders, as well as a group of students, are to be honored at the CHBA Awards Dinner on Nov. 15.