Four Connecticut residents, including two Yalies, were arrested in Hartford Thursday in an act of civil disobedience, protesting the immigration system that is poised to deport a New Haven undocumented immigrant.
Blocking the entrance to the Federal Building in Hartford, the four protestors — Yale Divinity School students Gregory Williams DIV ’15 and Jordan Scruggs DIV ’15, Unidad Latina en Accion organizer Megan Fountain ’07 and Amistad Catholic Worker Coordinator Mark Colville — were taken into custody during a 70-person “Rally of Butterflies” outside the Hartford Immigration Court. The rally, named for an international symbol of migration, demanded that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stop the deportation of Josemaria Islas, an undocumented immigrant who has previously been deported four times and is in the midst of deportation proceedings.
Protestors, who heard speeches from representatives of several immigrants rights groups, also called on President Barack Obama to place a moratorium on all deportations of undocumented workers.
In the past seven months, Islas’ case has generated a groundswell of opposition to federal immigration statutes in New Haven and throughout the state.
“He was arrested in a clear case of racial profiling and didn’t do anything wrong,” Williams said after leaving jail Thursday afternoon. “And yet he’s still being handed over to immigration because that’s just the broken immigration system that we have in this country.”
The rally coincided with a hearing before a Hartford immigration judge regarding Islas’ deportation proceedings, where Islas and his supporters hoped his case would be dropped.
Despite what activists deemed a success outside the courtroom during the rally, Islas’ case faced disappointment inside. The judge opted against ending the case, meaning Islas is now more likely to be deported.
ICE defended its continued push for Islas’ deportation in a statement to the News, noting the criminal charges Islas formerly faced.
“[Islas] was originally charged with a serious criminal offense of conspiracy to commit robbery. He was subsequently charged with two lesser offenses arising from the same incident and entered Connecticut’s accelerated rehabilitation program,” ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein told the News in a email. “[Islas] was also previously removed from the United States on four separate occasions in both August and September 2005. He subsequently entered the United States without permission.”
Organizers, nevertheless, remained hopeful that the demonstration would generate change for Islas and immigrants nationwide.
“It won’t affect the decision in the courtroom,” Katherine Aragón ’14, who leads Hispanic advocacy organization MEChA and helped organize the rally, said of the event Thursday. “But it can affect public perception and maybe sway an official with higher capacity.”
Hamden police arrested Islas on July 2, after someone claimed that a man resembling Islas had attempted to steal a bicycle. Despite a lack of evidence, Islas was held in custody in Massachusetts for four months. His charge of attempted armed robbery was eventually changed to breaching the peace, a misdemeanor, of which he was acquitted. Islas was released from ICE custody in late November on $4,000 bail but still faces deportation.
“They just picked the first small, dark, brown person and the street, and they charged him for something that he did not do,” John Lugo, an organizer for Unidad Latina en Accion, said Thursday.
Islas and his advocates have reached out extensively to elected officials and community leaders, 12 of whom, including Mayor John DeStefano Jr., have written letters to ICE asking that the case be closed. Islas has also met with Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Sen. Chris Murphy requesting they send letters to ICE on his behalf. According to Lugo, Blumenthal opted against the letter, while Murphy says he is still considering it.
The case has generated an attempt, led in part by State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, to promote further reform of the state’s immigration laws. Holder-Winfield said Thursday he is in the process of drafting a bill to prevent all state agencies from cooperating with Secure Communities, a program that allows ICE officials to check police fingerprints of criminal suspects thought to be in the country illegally. If they deem the individual to be undocumented, ICE officials can request state or local agencies detain them until they are transferred into the custody of ICE.
Last year, Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered that the state Department of Correction not comply with the program. But because judicial marshals, who report to the court system rather than the state’s executive branch, held Islas last year, he was turned over to ICE.
“What we’re saying here is not that people should be able to come into the country illegally,” Holder-Winfield said, but added, “We’re not in the business of simply turning people over to ICE.”
ICE released a statement noting that of the 409,849 individuals reported in 2012, 225,390, or 55 percent, had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors. According to the same statement, this included 1,215 aliens convicted of homicide and 5,557 convicted of sexual offenses.
Islas, who since his release in November has traveled the state to build support for immigration reform, will speak at Yale on Monday as part of a panel on immigration reform hosted by the Yale College Democrats.