Four people protesting against the deportation of Josemaria Islas were arrested for blocking the doorway to the federal court building in Hartford Thursday.
Islas has become a symbol of what's wrong with U.S. immigration policy under President Obama's Administration.
He was picked up by Hamden police who were searching for two Latino men suspected of stealing a bike. Islas turned out to be innocent and had no prior criminal record other than entering the U.S. without documentation. But state judicial officials turned him over to federal immigration authorities anyway.
Federal officials say Islas was "previously removed from the United States on four separate occasions in both August and September 2005" and kept on returning illegally.
Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), issued a statement saying one of the agency's priorities is to target undocumented immigrants who are serious criminals "or repeatedly violated immigration laws" by reentering the U.S.
Thursday's bitterly cold winds didn't stop dozens of activists and immigration reform supporters from showing up to demonstrate outside the federal building where a deportation hearing to decide Islas' fate was happening.
The hearing resulted in an order for Islas to be deported, but he now has 30 days to appeal the ruling. John Lugo, one of the organizers of the protest action, says various reform groups will be helping Islas with his appeal, hoping to "put more political pressure" on federal politicians to reform the immigration system.
The four civil disobedience protesters arrested were Gregory Williams and Jordan Scruggs, both Yale Divinity School students; Megan Fountain, an organizer with Unidad Latina en Accion, which is based in New Haven; and Mark Colville, coordinator of the Amistad Catholic Worker in New Haven.
Williams says all four were charged with disorderly conduct and were offered the chance to each pay a $175 fine to settle the matter.
"We're going to refuse to pay the fine," says Williams. He says a court trial will offer another opportunity to continue the protest against Islas' deportation.
"We want to put as much public pressure as we can on ICE and the courts to reconsider (Islas') deportation order," Williams says.
The action against Islas was part of the federal government's Secure Communities (or S-Comm) program that is supposed to target undocumented immigrants with major felony offenses. Critics argue that tens of thousands of law-abiding immigrants have been deported under the program.
Connecticut corrections officials are now required by state policy to review all ICE requests that an undocumented immigrant be detained. The idea is to prevent non-criminals from being deported.
"The Connecticut Department of Corrections policy... is a step in the right direction, but innocent people like Josemaria are still being turned over to ICE by Connecticut judicial marshals," says Ana Maria Rivera, legal and policy director of Junta for Progressive Action.
Williams says Islas, although he wasn't guilty of attempting to steal that Hamden bicycle, did eventually agree to plead guilty to breach of the peace, and was granted a form of accelerated rehabilitation that means even that minor charge should be eventually cleared from his record.