Juana Islas, a New Haven resident and undocumented Mexican immigrant, broke down in tears before a crowd gathered at City Hall Thursday evening as she recounted the story of how her brother Josemaria Islas may now face deportation after having just settled felony charges.
Josemaria Islas, who is currently in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, was arrested last July by the Hamden police investigating an attempted armed robbery. Though the victim identified Islas as the perpetrator, he was not convicted of any crime due to a lack of evidence, and instead he enrolled in a state rehabilitation program allowing individuals charged with non-serious crimes to have charges waived after a period of probation. But rather than releasing Islas to move forward with rehabilitation, judicial marshals continued to detain him in voluntary compliance with an ICE hold request, which may lead to his deportation. But immigrant rights advocates are criticizing the judicial marshals’ decision to honor the hold request — authorized under the federal Secure Communities program — because Gov. Dannel Malloy had previously promised in March not to comply with hold requests for non-violent offenders.
Secure Communities, which was implemented statewide Feb. 22, allows ICE 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. But the program has faced heated criticism from immigrant rights groups and members of the Latino community as unnecessarily targeting non-violent criminals and undermining community policing. In an effort to curb the program’s implementation, Malloy announced in March that Connecticut would only honor detainment requests for serious offenders who meet certain objective criteria, and given that Islas has not been convicted of a crime, his detention has incited further criticism of Secure Communities.
Advocacy groups rallied to protest Islas’ detention at a press conference that drew 17 people including members of the Islas family, advocacy group Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), a City Hall representative and members of the Divinity School student organization, Seminarians for a Democratic Society. Prior to his arrest, Islas was a volunteer for ULA and an advocate for immigration rights.
ULA pressed Malloy to urge Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to dismiss Islas’ case and develop a clear policy to address Secure Communities detainment requests. ULA volunteer Megan Fountain ’07 said that Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, had betrayed his promise that Islas would not be transferred to ICE custody and demanded that the state “develop a much clearer position” on the enforcement of Secure Communities.
“There still is no cohesive or transparent standard of dealing with ICE hold requests,” Fountain said.
Lawlor, however, said Malloy is already a vocal critic of Secure Communities. Malloy ordered an investigation of the program in July and announced he would only honor detainment requests for serious offenders such as convicted criminals, gang members and suspected terrorists.
But Malloy’s executive policy does not apply to Islas, who was detained under a court order, Lawlor said. Though Malloy cannot overturn such a legal ruling, he has repeatedly pressured state judicial marshals not to comply with Secure Communities’ detainment requests for non-criminals, Lawlor added. Lawlor said Malloy has also urged advocacy groups to engage members of the judicial branch in a conversation about Secure Communities.
“We can’t compel the judicial branch to follow our policy,” Lawlor said. “We have encouraged advocacy groups to put pressure on the right people.”
Fountain said ULA had not reached out to judicial officials.
ULA organizer John Lugo said undocumented immigrants seek refuge in New Haven due to policies that limit questions about an individual’s immigration status during routine law enforcement interactions. City officials, including Mayor John DeStefano Jr., have denounced the Secure Communities program. Both DeStefano and Malloy said the program could breed mistrust between local immigrant communities and police. Under Secure Communities, they said, undocumented immigrants have come to view the local police as arms of federal deportation agencies and are consequently reluctant to turn to law enforcement when they are witnesses or victims of crime, fearing they will be deported.
“Secure Communities is a misguided and mishandled program that will make neither New Haven nor the State more secure,” City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said. “The program runs counterproductive to the relationships our police department has worked hard to establish with immigrant communities.”
A Yale Law School study found that nearly 70 percent of people deported from ICE hold requests in Fairfield County were not convicted criminals, violent offenders or threats to public safety or national security.