4 Arrested As Feds Order New Havener Deported

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 Responds

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.”


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posted by: Billy on February 21, 2013  4:23pm

Mark Colville is one of New Haven’s great residents.  His commitment to justice is inspiring.

posted by: Atwater on February 21, 2013  5:45pm

Per this article, Mr. Islas committed a felony, he should be deported. He also came into our country illegally, unlike the German man who came to this country legally and was denied access to the Court. We do need immigration reform, but this is not the way to make that argument. It only attracts zealots and radicals, from both sides.

posted by: teacherteacher on February 21, 2013  6:36pm

Jose Maria Islas is not a felon and was never convicted of a crime. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time (they were looking for a short, Hispanic man who’d attempted to steal a bicycle, and he was a short, Hispanic man on his lunch break). When the authorities realized this, they passed him on to ICE rather than letting him go free.

My heart was with the protesters today. Thank you for continuing to shine light on this injustice.

posted by: Kevin Dean on February 21, 2013  8:19pm

So proud of those who stood up (or sat down, as it were) to be arrested today. ICE’s response is totally outrageous, for anyone who’s been following Jose’s case. He was accused of “conspiracy to commit robbery,” (stop and think about the meaning of that accusation for a second, especially in light of what ‘teacherteacher’ has correctly said here) but he was being released, and wasn’t convicted of that crime when judicial marshals chose to hand him over to ICE. So ICE’s reason for making his case high-priority is basically a great big circle of calling his case high-priority.

posted by: SaveOurCity on February 22, 2013  12:17am

can we get an unbiased account of this guys incarceration?  As reported above “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.” ....doesn’t really add up.  Unless he was a terror suspect, he would have to have been at least charged with a crime.  If he was granted ‘rehab’ rather than being found Not Guilty, then the statements of innocence are a bit flimsy. 

There is no question that we need to improve our immigration system but there are plenty of better places to direct our sympathy than a guy who is here illegally and then is involved (at some level) in criminal activity.

posted by: chindonya on February 22, 2013  2:53am

Under INA §212(a)(6)(A)(i), an alien present in the United States without being admitted or paroled, or who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General, is inadmissible.

posted by: Obrero on February 22, 2013  11:03am

@S.O.C.:  Jose Maria Islas was not held without charge.  He was held without evidence. He had nothing to do with any crime, and the ICE official quoted in this article is well aware of that.
    Jose was a working man on his lunch break.  He was racially profiled by Hamden police, and then improperly held captive for months until a judge dismissed his case.  ICE got its claws on him because of an immigration enforcement policy called “Secure Communities”, under which local authorities are obliged to inform Immigration if they SUSPECT that someone they are holding is undocumented.  This is a policy which has been discredited by a host of local and state government officials- including the governor of CT, the Mayor of New Haven, and many police officials-  because it makes our communities unsafe.  Immigrants, whether documented or not, are intimidated and discouraged from calling the police, reporting crimes, or even accessing basic services like fire protection or medical care, if they fear that their immigration status will be constantly called into question when they do so.  And once the federal government gets involved, they almost never fail to charge a person with “conspiracy” to do something. 
    This is what happened to Jose Maria Islas.  And the real travesty of his case is that ICE officials have the option to exercise “prosecutorial discretion”, which means they can recognize the fact that Jose is not a criminal and refuse to prosecute him for immigration violations.  Obama himself has declared that the only people they should be deporting are the violent criminals.  Yet as it stands now, the Obama administration is on a pace to deport over two million people by the time his presidency ends, which would be more deportations than had happened in the previous century combined.  This is clearly evidence of a federal law enforcement aparatus that has gotten beyond the control of government.
    One might logically ask: Where is the voice of our congresspeople, like Rosa DeLauro for instance, when law abiding citizens in her district are being attacked and railroaded in this way?  If you want to do something constructive, why not call her office and insist that she call on ICE officials to leave Jose Maria Islas alone?

posted by: SaveOurCity on February 22, 2013  11:52am

@Obrero:  So, are you saying that the laws that Cindonya posts are not true?  Further, are you saying that various gov’t agencies should not communicate and cooperate?  Personally, if a wanted felon from Rhode Island is pulled over in CT, I’d feel much more comfortable if he were detained based upon communication and cooperation.

As far as your Obama comments, that’s news to me.  however, I would not be surprised if it were true.  Remember, this is a person who promised to close Guantanamo, open law making process(using CSPAN), balance the budget, never allow unemployment above 8%, ‘bring together’ the various political corners, make the Middle East safe by apologizing….etc

posted by: Obrero on February 22, 2013  3:15pm

@S.O.C: What I’m saying is that the laws Chindonya points out are not and should not be within the jurisdiction of local authorities to investigate, nor should they be empowered to speculate as to whether someone is in violation of those laws.  Doing so destabilizes our communities, causes mistrust of and noncooperation with police on the part of the people they are supposed to protect, and inevitably leads to racial profiling.  And it’s just plain silly to equate a violent felon with someone who is in the country without documents- especially someone like Josemaria Islas, who has been here for several years and is working hard to feed his family.  (A more apt comparison for Jose might be to someone driving with a suspended license because of unpaid parking tickets.  As for ICE’s statement that he was charged with a serious criminal offense: Yes, he was FALSELY charged, without any evidence aside from his race/ethnicity, and he eventually accepted a lesser charge simply because it was the only way he would be able to leave prison.)  The fact is that undocumented people are no more or less likely to be violent criminals than the rest of us.  One is hardly an indicator of the other, so reporting undocumented people to ICE simply because they are undocumented doesn’t make anyone safer.

posted by: SaveOurCity on February 23, 2013  11:07am

@Obrero:  I realize that this is a person and an issue about which you are passionate, but step back and think about your comments;

> Local and Federal authorities shouldn’t work together?  This kind of ‘silo’ thinking was a main contributor to 9/11.

> Parking tickets is equal to breaking federal immigration law?

> If Islas was confident that he was falsely charged with no evidence, then a trial would find him not guilty.  Most people who plea bargain do so because they realize the likelihood that a trial is not in their best interests

> The final argument that reporting Immigration violators to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is wrong simply defies logic

There is no question that the immigration laws and policies of this nation need to be revamped.  However, making statements that alienate most logical people will not help the process

posted by: Obrero on February 23, 2013  1:14pm

@S.O.C.: I appreciate your comments because I think you’re making a sincere effort to understand this issue more completely (as am I).  But once again, you have managed to completely mischaracterize both my words and the issue itself; and the naivete with which you approach this discussion is almost breathtaking.
    I never stated that local and federal authorities as a rule should not cooperate with each other.  However, you and I live in a nation that has seen hundreds of historical moments in which federal law and state law have been at odds, and this is clearly one of those moments.  Ask any governor in this country whether it is even possible to safely and adequately enforce federal immigration law in their state, and after they stop laughing they’ll say “of course not”.  The job of state and local police is to keep our local communities safe, not to be an investigative arm of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  To correct your deliberate misquotation of my words: I didn’t say that reporting on immigration violators is wrong, I said it doesn’t make anyone safer. You said it yourself: “There is no question that the immigration laws and policies of this nation need to be revamped.”  In case it’s not perfectly clear, I’d like to suggest that Secure Communities is among the most prominent examples of dangerous and failed policies that must be discarded. 
Being in the country without documents is a nonviolent crime, and many would debate whether it should even be considered a “crime” at all.  But at the very least, we should be able to agree that it’s much more akin to a violation like driving with a suspended license than it is to the exploits of a “convicted felon”.  You make the obligatory reference to 9/11 to support your argument, but would it be so outlandish to consider the fact that none of the terrorists who perpetrated that act were undocumented immigrants, and that it’s more than a little unfair to paint migrant worker Mexicans with that brush?
  And finally, you say that if Mr. Islas was truly innocent of any crime, that this would be proven at trial?  Trial, in a federal court, where the conviction rate is somewhere close to 98%?  Well, this is where my words fail me, so I’ll just have to give you back your own: “Step back and think about yourcomments.”