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Immigration Activists, Faith Groups Rally Outside Hartford Federal Building

'Lent Without Borders' Protests Deportations


March 15, 2013

HARTFORD —— Quakers, Unitarians, Catholics and immigration activists sang hymns Friday outside the Ribicoff Federal Building and Courthouse, spreading the message to lunch-hour traffic that "God welcomes all."

Their argument: So, too, should the government on immigration. One member of the Amistad Catholic Worker faith group in New Haven held a cardboard cutout of a monarch butterfly with the words, "Migration Is Natural."

"No One Is Illegal," read another sign.

The small rally was part of Lent Without Borders, a series of Connecticut events that faith and social justice groups have planned during the Christian season of Lent to protest deportations under current immigration policy.

Statewide, pro-immigration advocates have become more vocal as Congress debates reform proposals that could include a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

"What we have now is a system where it's not possible to be good enough," said Gregory Williams, 23, a Yale Divinity School student and organizer with Seminarians for a Democratic Society.

Williams on Friday highlighted the case of Josemaria Islas, a 35-year-old New Haven resident who faces deportation after Hamden police, searching for a Latino suspect in an attempted bike robbery case, arrested him last July on a felony charge.

Islas contends he didn't commit the crime but entered the state's accelerated rehabilitation program when prosecutors charged him with two misdemeanors instead of the original, more serious conspiracy to commit robbery. The accelerated rehabilitation probation program can erase charges from a defendant's record.

On Feb. 21, a federal immigration judge in Hartford ordered Islas' removal from the country, sparking a protest that day in which Williams and three other Islas supporters were arrested on disorderly conduct charges when they blocked the entrance to the Ribicoff building.

Islas can appeal the deportation order by March 25. Organizers with the New Haven-based Unidad Latina en Acción said Friday that they want the government to exercise prosecutorial discretion. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has insisted that Islas would not qualify.

ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein said Islas is "a priority for removal" after the Hamden arrest and because he has repeatedly violated immigration law. The Mexico native was deported four times between August and Sept. 2005 before again crossing the border and entering the U.S. without permission, Feinstein said.

ICE deported a record 409,849 immigrants last fiscal year, about 55 percent of whom were convicted of crimes, according to the federal agency.

"He's living in this limbo," said John Lugo of Unidad Latina en Acción. Islas, a factory worker on his lunch break when police arrested last summer, is now working at a New Haven restaurant and is "hopeful that at least he has an organization speaking on his behalf. He's not alone," Lugo said.

Down the sidewalk and across Main Street, more than a dozen law enforcement officers kept watch on Friday's protesters, almost outnumbering them.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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