Surrounded by a small cadre of Yale College Democrats Monday evening, Josemaria Islas continued his advocacy against his own looming deportation, which he has been fighting to prevent for seven months.
Islas, a New Haven undocumented worker arrested in July on charges of armed robbery of which he was later cleared, faces an uphill battle in his effort to remain in the United States. Last Thursday, an immigration court in Hartford decided against dropping Islas’ case, bringing him one step closer to deportation. At the same time, four protestors — including two current Yale students — claiming unfairness in the Secure Communities program of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were arrested in an act of civil disobedience in the state Capitol.
Secure Communities asks local law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants who have been arrested until ICE officials can bring them to a immigration detention center.
While last week’s rally generated some public support for Islas, it thus far has produced no change on the part of ICE or high-level public officials who might influence his case. As a result, Islas and his advocates are left to continue their efforts to build support on a local level, though with no guarantee of success.
“I migrated looking for a better life for my family,” Islas said during Monday’s meeting. “I’m paying for something I did not do.”
Islas will speak at the Unitarian Universalist Society of New Haven on Saturday. On Sunday, his family will participate in the Keeping Families Together campaign tour, a national bus tour focusing on immigration issues visiting New Haven this weekend. Beyond that, Islas’ plans are undetermined, said Unidad Latina en Accion organizer Megan Fountain ’07, who was arrested Thursday.
Fountain said there is no timeline for Islas’ continuing deportation procedures. He has 30 days to appeal last week’s court decision, but whether he will choose to remains uncertain.
At the moment, Islas is continuing to consult his lawyer on possible legal strategies. Fountain added, however, that prosecutorial discretion, in which ICE would simply close Islas’ case, “is really the only option.”
At least 12 community leaders and elected officials have sent letters asking ICE Public Advocate Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, who is prosecuting the case, to exercise prosecutorial discretion, including New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein remained firm in the agency’s commitment to continue Islas’ deportation proceedings, calling him a “priority for removal” in an email to the News last week. Feinstein emphasized that ICE prioritizes “those that have broken criminal laws, recently crossed our border, or repeatedly violated immigration laws,” which, he said, Islas had done.
“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,” Feinstein wrote. “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.”
Islas and his advocates have asked for similar letters from Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro. Although Blumenthal has reportedly turned down the request, Fountain said that Murphy and DeLauro’s offices are still considering writing such a letter. In her evaluation of the requests’ prospects, however, she remains pessimistic.
“Politicians want to come out in support of young people, undocumented youth,” Fountain said, referring to broad support for the DREAM Act, which proposed to grant temporary and then permanent residency to certain undocumented young immigrants. “They’re very afraid to come out in support of undocumented parents and undocumented workers.”
In the meantime, Islas’ case has spurred an invigorated push for Connecticut to close the loophole that allowed for Islas’ detention by ICE. Last year, Gov. Dannel Malloy instructed the state Department of Corrections to hold only undocumented immigrants convicted of felonies for ICE. Because Islas was in the custody of judicial marshals, however, Malloy’s order did not apply.
State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield is, at the request of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, in the process of authoring the Connecticut TRUST Act, which would extend the essence of Malloy’s order to all branches of the state’s law enforcement.
Islas has a brother, sister, brother-in-law and several nieces and nephews in New Haven, he said Monday. Four of them are currently undocumented.