New Haven resident Josemaria Islas received a major show of support from Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy one week before he is required to report to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office in Hartford, where he may be detained for deportation.
In a letter addressed to ICE Director John Morton, Murphy requested that ICE grant Islas a stay of removal, which would allow the Mexican native to remain in the country for the time being. Murphy cited pending federal immigration reform, which could significantly change Islas’ legal status in the United States, as a reason not to deport him. Drawing on the same arguments that other advocates for Islas have vocalized over the past several months, Murphy also pointed to Islas’ family, his involvement in the New Haven community and his acquittal in the robbery with which he was originally charged when first arrested last July.
“Given that Congress is actively drafting immigration reform legislation from which Mr. Islas may benefit and that Mr. Islas has no criminal history in the US, has close family members living with him, and has a solid employment history, I respectfully ask that Mr. Islas’ request for discretion in his stay of removal be considered under the full extent of the law,” Murphy said in the letter.
Hamden police arrested Islas on July 2, 2012, 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. Islas has previously been caught and released by border patrol several times in attempting to enter the United States.
ICE has requested that Islas report to its Hartford office for an interview next Monday, according to Megan Fountain ’07, organizer of immigrant advocacy group Unidad Latina en Acción. It is unclear, though, whether Islas will be deported, granted a stay of removal or have his case closed. Islas’ lawyer, Danielle Briand ’01, emphasized the importance of the outcome of ICE’s decision on Monday.
“If they proceed in deporting him, there’s nothing we can do,” Briand said.
Over the next week, Islas, his family and his advocates plan to mobilize a network of friends and supporters, possibly through a phone campaign to Morton’s office, according to Lugo.
In writing his letter, Murphy became the first member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation to take an active and public stance directly on Islas’ behalf. Though Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 has repeatedly expressed his support for ending ICE’s Secure Communities program, through which Islas’ detainment was continued after his acquittal, he has not written a letter to ICE supporting Islas’ continued residency in the United States. In addition, immigration activists left U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s office disappointed earlier this month after the congresswoman refused to take significant action to prevent Islas’ deportation.
“Finally Sen. Murphy is getting the courage to send his letter,” said John Lugo, a member of Unidad Latina en Acción. “He understood that an injustice was done to Josemaria and his family.”
Lugo added that Murphy’s letter might encourage other lawmakers and community members alike to take action to prevent Islas’ removal.
Murphy’s support comes after advocates for Islas spent months lobbying the senator’s office. In late February, Islas supporters, including Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and members of Unidad Latina en Acción, came together to release 12 letters on his behalf.
Unlike Murphy’s letter, the February letters sought prosecutorial discretion from ICE Public Advocate Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, which would drop Islas’ case entirely. According to Fountain, Lorenzen-Strait’s primary responsibility is dealing with complaints, whereas Morton’s responsibilities cover all of ICE’s operations.
“Sen. Murphy sent his letter to John Morton because he is the highest office [in ICE],” Fountain said. “So he has the ultimate decision-making power.”
Islas has a brother, sister, brother-in-law and several nieces and nephews in New Haven. Four of them are currently undocumented.