Mexican immigrant Josemaria Islas finally settled a misdemeanor charge against him, only to find himself in federal custody and headed for possible deportation—exactly the situation that Gov. Dannel Malloy’s immigrant-arrest policy was meant to avoid.
Following Malloy’s direction, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in April instituted a new procedure to handle requests under federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “Secure Communities” program, which seeks to deport undocumented immigrants who are arrested by local police. The new DOC protocol states that ICE requests to detain arrested immigrants would be honored only if the person met one of several criteria, including being a convicted felon, a known gang member, or on a terrorist watch list.
In other words, Dan Malloy’s Connecticut wouldn’t help the feds deport people like Josemaria Islas, a 34-year-old New Havener.
Click here to see the protocol. Look on pages 12-14 for the checklist of conditions under which an arrestee can be turned over to ICE.
The Malloy policy was intended to prevent a breakdown of trust between local law enforcement and immigrants who might not report crimes for fear of being deported, and to prevent ICE from deporting undocumented immigrants who have not been convicted of any serious crime.
But that’s just what might happen. Islas (pictured) was taken into ICE custody on Wednesday and may be headed back to Mexico.
As it turns out, Malloy’s order applies only to the Department of Corrections, which falls under the executive branch.
Islas was turned over to ICE by court marshals, who work under the judicial branch, which has a policy of honoring all ICE requests.
New Haven activist group Unidad Latina en Accion held a 4 p.m. press conference for Thursday to call on the governor to try to stop Islas’ deportation. Islas is related by marriage to a man who was killed in Fair Haven in 2006, spurring the creation of the Elm City ID Card.
Mike Lawlor, under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning, said this case is out of the governor’s hands. He said he has spoken repeatedly with the feds and with the judicial branch about ICE detainment requests, or “detainers.” He also said he knows of no other cases like this one.
“It is the current policy of the Judicial Branch to honor ICE detainers,” said Joseph D’Alesio, head of the judicial branch’s superior court operations division. “We are in the process of setting up a meeting with officials from the Office of Policy and Management, the Department of Correction and the Office of the State’s Attorney to discuss this issue.”
Hamden police arrested Islas on July 2. According to Sean Barrett, the law partner of Peter Billings, who defended Islas, someone riding on a bike path in Hamden claimed that Islas and someone else had tried to rob him.
The alleged victim couldn’t ID either of the men, Barrett said. He wasn’t robbed; he just kept riding on the bike path.
Nevertheless, Islas was held on a $10,000 bond for nearly four months. Eventually the charge was dropped to breach of peace. A judge on Wednesday granted Islas “accelerated rehabilitation,” ordering that the case be dismissed in three months if Islas meets certain conditions, Barrett said. That’s common procedure when the state, upon reviewing the facts, concludes it doesn’t have a strong case. Islas’s defense had produced evidence that he had been at work and then lunch at the time of the incident.
But just as he was to be released from court, marshals turned Islas over to ICE, Lawlor said.
“If at that point, he had been brought back to DOC, we would not have honored the detainer,” Lawlor said. “Because he did not meet any of the criteria we look at to determine if he’s a serious offender.” Islas does not have a criminal record and is not a gang member.
“Apparently the judicial marshals, who are court police who work not for the executive branch but for the court system, then took it upon themselves to notify ICE and to hold him until ICE came to pick him up from the courthouse,” Lawlor said. “We’ve asked the judicial branch to honor our policy. They have not.”
“The reason that this is so important is that it undermines the ability of local police to do their job with a perception in the immigrant community that by calling police you’re exposing yourself or someone else to deportation.”
“Miscarriage Of Justice”
“We feel completely betrayed,” said Megan Fountain (pictured), an activist with Unidad Latina en Accion. While the governor has stated that he opposes ICE’s Secure Communities program, Fountain said, he should do more to try to stop Islas from being deported.
“The governor should put pressure on [head of Homeland Security] Janet Napolitano’s office,” Fountain said. “It’s a miscarriage of justice.”
Napolitano visited Connecticut for a storm-related event with Malloy Thursday.
“We have talked to the feds repeatedly,” Lawlor said. “We’ve been in countless meetings with them and continue to restate our point of view. ... It’s very frustrating that ICE is undermining the ability of local police to do their job.”
Asked if there’s anything more the governor could do to help Islas, Lawlor responded, “He’s in the federal system.” Lawlor said he would ask the governor if he can do anything more.
At 4 p.m. at City Hall, members of Unidad Latina en Accion held a protest to call attention to the case. Islas’ sister Juana Islas spoke in spanish about how much her three children miss their uncle. “He’s innocent of everything,” she said of her brother. “He’s an honest and hardworking man who did no wrong.”