Conn. Lawmakers Subpoena Deported Former Residents
Two Connecticut residents who were deported to Italy several years ago because of criminal convictions are asking the federal government for permission to return to the state to appear before state lawmakers, who subpoenaed them to testify about their experiences.
Paula Milardo, a former hairdresser, and Arnold Giammarco, a U.S. Army veteran, both moved to Connecticut legally with their families when they were children in the early 1960s. Milardo was deported in 2011 because of a felony theft conviction. Giammarco was deported in 2012 because of convictions for drug possession and misdemeanor theft.
The co-chairmen of the legislature's Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Milardo and Giammarco last week to a hearing set for April 4 about how criminal convictions can affect immigrant families. On Monday, Milardo and Giammarco filed applications with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to return to Connecticut for the hearing.
Lawmakers want to know if there is anything they can do to prevent such deportations, said Democratic Rep. William Tong of Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
"It seems that, on its face, these cases are extreme and unjust, but we need to explore it a little more," Tong said.
Milardo and Giammarco are being represented by Yale Law School students who say the legislative subpoenas of the deported residents appear to be the first of their kind in the country.
"We are hoping this inspires other legislators across the country to hold similar hearings," said Sarahi Uribe, one of the students.
Uribe cited record numbers of deportations by the U.S. under the Obama administration. In December, the administration disclosed that the U.S. deported about 235,413 people between October 2014 and September 2015 — the fewest deportations since 2006. Immigration advocates derisively dubbed the president the "Deporter-In-Chief" after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed a record of more than 409,000 immigrants in 2012.
Both Milardo and Giammarco said they were shocked when federal immigration agents showed up at their homes, arrested them and detained them for months before sending them to Italy, where they had relatives they didn't know. Both said being deported has devastated their families.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement Tuesday saying the agency "remains focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes threats to national security, public safety, and border security. Individuals with serious criminal convictions are among the agency's highest enforcement priorities."
ICE also said it is "very deliberate" in its review of cases involving veterans such as Giammarco.
Milardo, 65, who lived in Middletown, is married to a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments. They have three children and six grandchildren. She now rents space in a home in Melilli in Sicily, where her family is from.
She was arrested by Middletown police in 2009 on charges she stole more than $30,000 from a 92-year-old hairdressing client. She was sentenced to 10 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution after pleading guilty to felony larceny.
Milardo said the theft was a result of the gambling addiction she developed when her husband had colon cancer, from which he has recovered. She said she paid the money back to the victim.
"I don't understand why I had to pay twice for the same mistake," Milardo told The Associated Press during a phone interview Tuesday. "I served my time. I also paid back restitution, and I did not understand why I was deported."
The Yale students have filed a court action seeking to get Milardo's conviction overturned, because they say her lawyer didn't tell her about the deportation risk.
Giammarco, 60, has a wife and 6-year-old daughter who live in Niantic and haven't seen him since Thanksgiving 2013. He is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Germany in the 1970s. He now lives in the home of a relative who recently died in Campo di Fano, about two hours east of Rome.
He has several convictions for misdemeanor larceny and drug possession, which he blamed on his former drug addiction. He said he got out of jail in 2008, avoided drugs, got a job and worked to support his family. The federal agents arrested him in 2011.
"I was devastated," he said. "It's been a nightmare for the past four years. I worry about my wife and daughter. They're everything to me. The punishment doesn't fit the crime. I'm not a bad person. I changed my life around."
The Yale students are suing the federal government for failing to process Giammarco's application for U.S. citizenship years ago.