Federal immigration officials Friday released Jose Maria Islas, an undocumented immigrant whose arrest and detention case has become a symbol and a rallying cry for Connecticut activists. Officials released him from custody, saying he can return home to New Haven while his deportation appeal is being heard.
"It's not over," said Megan Fountain, a volunteer immigration activist who picked Islas up from the regional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters in Burlington, Mass. "ICE just decided to release him from custody because of the pressure we've been applying."
That pressure included letters and telephone calls from Connecticut's congressional delegation and Gov. Dannel Malloy, who argued the deportation of Islas should be put on hold while Congress is debating major immigration reform. There have also months worth of protests in New Haven and Hartford against the deportation of Islas.
Fountain, a volunteer with the New Haven-based Unidad Latina en Accion, said ICE officials are requiring Islas to wear an electronic ankle bracelet so they can track his location, and have ordered him to report in regularly following his release.
Islas' case is now before the federal Board of Immigration Appeals. His lawyers are arguing that deporting him back to Mexico would be "cruel and unusual punishment" because his only "crime" was repeatedly attempting to enter the U.S. to work. Technically, his only offense is a violation of the immigration laws, which isn't considered a major or serious criminal act.
"It's a very severe punishment for someone who was picked up [as a result] of racial profiling," Fountain said.
Islas was on a break from his job at a Hamden factory when he was arrested by Hamden police. They were allegedly looking for a short "brown man" in the attempted theft of a bicycle. Islas was later proved not to have been involved, but state judicial officials turned him over to ICE anyway.
That action came about because of a loophole in a state policy designed to prevent undocumented immigrants in Connecticut from being deported for minor offenses. The Islas case prompted passage of new legislation this year to close that loophole.