As one New Havener lost his fight against deportation by the feds, four others were arrested Thursday by federal marshals outside a courthouse in Hartford.
The arrests were the result of a planned act of civil disobedience during a protest against the imminent deportation of Josemaria Islas, a 35-year-old New Havener.
Those arrested were Megan Fountain, Mark Colville, Jordan Scruggs, and Gregory Williams.
Activists have been fighting against Islas’ deportation ever since he was detained by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in November as part of ICE"s controversial “Secure Communities” program.
On Thursday morning in federal immigration court in Hartford, a judge ordered Islas deported back to Mexico in 30 days.
Activists supporting Islas said they plan to appeal the decision. Some 60 demonstrators rallied outside the federal courthouse on Thursday at noon to call for immigration reform and an end to deportations like Islas’. Four of the protesters sat down in front of the courthouse doors and refused to move. Click on the video above to watch their arrest.
Islas, who’s 35, is originally from Puebla, Mexico. He said he’s been in the United States since 2005. On July 2, 2012, he was arrested for an alleged robbery in Hamden. He was held in jail for nearly four months before he was granted “accelerated rehabilitation”—a kind of conditional dismissal of his case—in November 2012.
Just as he was to be released, judicial marshals handed Islas over to ICE, which had issued a request to detain him. ICE alleges that Islas is a serial violator of immigration laws who has repeatedly entered the country illegally.
ICE issued the detainer request under its Secure Communities program, which ICE argues is a way to target dangerous undocumented immigrants. Critics of the program say it more often snares law-abiding people, breaks up families, and undermines trust between police and immigrants.
Protesters have held a number of events to call attention to Islas’ case. A variety of immigrant-rights groups have come out in support of Islas. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano wrote a letter to ICE on Feb. 19 asking for Islas’ case to be reviewed.
On Thursday at noon, protesters began marching back and forth in front of the courthouse on Hartford’s Main Street. They chanted in Spanish and in English and held signs and cut-outs of large monarch butterfly, a symbol of free migration between Mexico and the U.S.
“Our brother today was ordered to be deported,” New Haven activist John Lugo announced with a bullhorn. “We’re going to appeal the decision of the judge.”
While President Barack Obama talks about immigration reform, the U.S. continues to deport about 1,000 people each day, Lugo said. “If he’s going to talk about immigration reform, they should stop the deportations now.”
“We came here only for work,” said Islas’ sister, Juana. “We are struggling for our children. We ask that immigrants not be separated from their families.”
Scruggs, a Yale Divinity School student and members of Seminarians for a Democratic Society, decried “the network of borders and prisons that are the most recent incarnation of American apartheid and which enforce dominant relationships of race and class by means of state-sanctioned violence.”
Moments later, she and three other protesters approached the courthouse and seated themselves in front of the doors. Scruggs blocked the exit, with fellow Yale Divinity School student Williams. New Haven activists Fountain and Colville sat in front of the entrance.
Hubert Schwan, an immigrant from Germany, approached the building and tried to enter, but Williams and Scruggs had secured the border.
“We’re sorry, sir. We’re trying to stop the violence of deportation,” Williams (at left in photo) told him.
Williams and Scruggs were shortly arrested, after they linked arms to prevent people from leaving the building.
“I need a copy of my citizenship papers,” said Schwan (at right in photo), still unable to enter the building. He said he immigrated to the U.S. as a student in the 1950s. He said he was at the courthouse Thursday to get citizenship documentation so that he can collect about $2,000 from the German government, money set aside for people who were unjustly detained after World War II.
“I was detained in Poland after the second World War,” said Schwan. He said he was born in East Prussia, a country that no longer exists, and now lives in West Hartford.
“We need reform, I agree,” said Schwan, as he stood stymied outside the courthouse. “But I don’t know specifically what they’re protesting against. … Now I’m very cold. I guess I have to come back.”
As speakers continued to orate through the megaphone, Fountain and Colville began to inch from the entrance of the building to the exit. “Stand up, fight back!” Colville (at left in photo) chanted as he sat down in front of security guards. He crawled toward the exit and was eventually arrested.
“I think you guys have made your point,” a man with handcuffs said to Fountain (at right in photo).
“There is an injustice being committed here and my conscious compels me to stay,” Fountain replied.
“You know you’re going to be arrested,” the man said.
“If innocent people are being locked up just because of their nationality or the color of their skin, then I’m willing to be locked up as well,” Fountain said.
The arrests were made by “federal authorities,” said a security guard who declined to give his name.
A federal arrest could mean potentially more serious legal trouble than an arrest by local cops, said Peter Goselin, a Hartford attorney who was at the protest as an observer. It depends how the U.S. Attorney’s office decides to deal with it, said James Bhandary-Alexander, a New Haven Legal Assistance lawyer.
Islas (pictured) himself spent the protest marching with a large Monarch butterfly. Asked about the arrests, he said, “I feel bad because I know they did it for me.”
He said he’s still confident his appeal will be successful. “I have faith in God. I want to struggle to the end.”
ICE released the following statement on Thursday afternoon:
“Jose Islas-Gonzalez is a priority for removal by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As clearly stated in ICE’s civil immigration enforcement priorities, illegal aliens who commit serious criminal offenses and repeatedly violate immigration law are a priority for the agency.
“Islas-Gonzalez 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. Islas-Gonzalez 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.
“ICE has adopted common sense policies nationwide that ensure our immigration laws are enforced in a way that best enhances public safety, border security and the integrity of the immigration system. As part of this approach, ICE has adopted clear priorities that call for the agency’s enforcement resources to be focused on the identification and removal of those that have broken criminal laws, recently crossed our border, or repeatedly violated immigration laws.”