Advocacy continues for immigration reform

The Keeping Families Together Bus tour stopped in New Haven Sunday to promote immigration reform.
The Keeping Families Together Bus tour stopped in New Haven Sunday to promote immigration reform. Photo by Nicole Narea .

As the Keeping Families Together Bus tour stopped in the Elm City Sunday to promote comprehensive federal immigration reform, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield called on state and federal legislators to spearhead humane immigration policy and blasted the Secure Communities deportation program.

Wielding posters of butterflies, the international symbol for immigration, about 100 immigrant families, activists and legislators gathered at City Hall on Sunday to welcome the bus tour to New Haven, one of 90 cities in 19 states along its route. Members of New Haven-based Immigrant advocacy groups Unidad Latina en Accion and Junta for Progressive Action also decried pending deportation proceedings against Josemaria Islas, a local undocumented immigrant who has previously been deported four times, under Secure Communities. ULA also held a demonstration on Friday in favor of the TRUST Act — a state bill that would limit the scope of deportations sanctioned under Secure Communities and establish uniform standards of enforcement.

“Let’s not worry about how folks in Arizona and California are going to vote,” DeStefano said. “Let’s make sure our seven [legislators] get it right.”

Secure Communities, which was implemented statewide last year, allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to check police fingerprints of criminal suspects against ICE and FBI databases in an effort to deport criminals residing in the country illegally. When ICE officials believe a suspect may be undocumented, they can issue a detainment request asking the state to hold the individual in custody pending deportation proceedings. Such hold requests are not legally compulsory, and Gov. Dannel Malloy, a strong critic of the program, has repeatedly promised since last March not to comply with those for non-violent offenders.

Nevertheless, DeStefano and Holder-Winfield came out in opposition to Secure Communities Sunday for unnecessarily targeting nonviolent criminals and undermining community policing.

Four protesters — Yale Divinity School students Gregory Williams DIV ’15 and Jordan Scruggs DIV ’15, ULA organizer Megan Fountain ’07 and Amistad Catholic Worker Coordinator Mark Colville — were taken into custody last month during a rally outside Hartford Immigration Court after a judge ruled to keep Islas’ deportation case open. Fountain said the judge’s decision not to drop the case signifies that Islas will likely be deported. Despite this, she and the other protestors said they will continue to contest Islas’ detainment.

In addition to organizing the Friday rally, Amistad Catholic Worker has planned two other demonstrations in Bridgeport and Hartford.

But ICE spokesperson Ross Feinstein issued a Feb. 21 statement claiming that Islas was a  “priority” for deportation.

“Jose Islas-Gonzalez is a priority for removal … As clearly stated in ICE’s civil immigration enforcement priorities, undocumented aliens who commit serious criminal offenses and repeatedly violate immigration law are a priority for the agency,” Feinstein said. “Islas-Gonzalez was originally charged with a serious criminal offense of conspiracy to commit robbery. He was also previously removed from the United States on four separate occasions in both August and September 2005.”

Hamden police arrested Islas last July, 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 last November on $4,000 bail but still faces deportation.

A sponsor of the Trust Act, Holder-Winfield criticized the lack of federal action on immigration policy, claiming that Washington needs to address reform on a grassroots basis without making the “state an arm of the federal government.” DeStefano added that New Haven remains at the forefront of immigration reform after it implemented Elm City Resident Cards last year, providing all residents with a tool to access basic public amenities regardless of immigration status.

ULA volunteer Gregory Williams said President Barack Obama’s administration’s recently leaked bill for comprehensive reform is flawed. Williams criticized the bill’s proposed use of drones and armed guards to further secure the border as well as the legislation’s temporary worker program.  He also said Obama’s proposal creates “a second class of immigrants” by selectively administering visas through programs like the DREAM Act — which provides a path to citizenship for undocumented youth seeking higher education or military service who immigrated to the U.S. before age 16 — and a bill that would give foreign-born individuals a path to citizenship if they launch startups that create jobs.

“We are encouraging public officials not to vote on legislation that does not seek to give a path to legal status to everybody,” Williams said.

Junta for Progressive Action estimates between 10,000 and 15,000 undocumented Latino immigrants reside in New Haven.

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