A federal immigration judge Thursday set a $4,000 bond for Josemaria Islas allowing him temporarily to leave jail and return to New Haven. Meanwhile:

• A top gubernatorial aide joined New Haven activists at a Capitol rally in support of the Mexican immigrant’s plight .
• The state judicial branch announced it may change a policy that led it to hand Islas over to the feds.
• The feds said they will continue trying to deport Islas, whom they called a serial immigration offender.

Islas appeared in federal immigration court in Hartford. Later, at 11:15 a.m., about 35 people gathered outside the courthouse to celebrate news that a judge had set a bond in the case, enabling Islas to leave jail as soon as Friday.

Islas faces deportation procedures against him. The federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is trying to send him back to Mexico. An ICE official said Thursday that Islas has already been deported four times. At the rally, Islas’ brother denied that claim.

Megan Fountain of New Haven’s Unidad Latina en Acción informed supporters of Judge Philip Verrillo’s decision at the end of the rally.

“They say that we can post the bond tomorrow morning and bring him home to his family for Christmas,” she said.

The group outside the courthouse included New Haven-based activists, as well as union representatives and Mike Lawlor, the governor’s under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning. Mayor John DeStefano has also come out in support of Islas’ cause.

Five Months In Jail

ICE took Islas into custody on Oct 31. The 34-year-old New Havener, who’s originally from Mexico, was handed over to ICE by court marshals after spending four months in jail, accused of a robbery. The charges didn’t stick; a judge that day sentenced him to accelerated rehabilitation for a lesser charge, a misdemeanor. Islas was supposed to walk free and have his record cleared in another three months, if he met certain conditions.

Instead, court marshals, who work under the state judicial branch, honored a request by ICE to detain Islas under ICE’s Secure Communities program. ICE took Islas to a detention facility in Massachusetts, where he awaits the completion of deportation proceedings.

“Jose Islas-Gonzalez is a priority for removal by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” Feinstein said on Thursday. “As clearly stated in ICE’s civil immigration enforcement priorities, illegal aliens who repeatedly violate immigration law are a priority for the agency. Islas-Gonzalez was encountered by ICE’s Secure Communities program after an arrest in Hamden, Conn., July 2.

“However, it was his prior removals from the United States that makes his case a priority for ICE. The Secure Communities biometric system quickly revealed that Islas-Gonzalez was removed from the United States on four separate occasions in both August and September 2005. He subsequently entered again without permission.”

“If that’s what they say, that’s what they say,” Lawlor said of ICE’s explanation for trying to deport Islas. “At the end of the day, the perception in the immigrant community is that if you cooperate with the police, whether you’re a victim or a witness, ultimately ICE might get involved and that undermines our entire system. “

Policy Change

Isla’s seizure by ICE prompted protest by Latino advocates. His detention is precisely the type of incident Gov. Dannel Malloy intended to avoid when he ordered Department of Corrections staff and state police not to honor ICE Secure Communities “detainer” requests unless the person in question poses a serious threat to national security or public safety.

But Malloy doesn’t control the day-to-day decisions of judicial branch, which has a policy of honoring all ICE detainer requests.

That policy may change.

On Thursday, Judge Patrick Carroll, deputy chief court administrator for the judicial branch, released this statement: “Representatives of the Judicial Branch have met with OPM Undersecretary Mike Lawlor, representatives from the Attorney General’s office, and representatives from the Department of Correction, and we are currently working together to develop a uniform policy that will address all of the concerns that have been raised.”

A change in policy may be too late to keep Islas from being deported.

“Not A Poster Child”

In a phone conversation Wednesday, Lawlor (pictured at Thursday’s rally) said ICE should honor its stated aims under the Secure Communities program and reserve detainer requests only for people who are significant threats to public safety. Islas had no criminal record prior to his arrest.

“According to the Department of Homeland Security, the purpose of [Secure Communities] is to identify serious offenders and deport them from the United States. What we know with certainty is that Mr. Islas is not a serious offender,” Lawlor said at Thursday’s rally.

Lawlor said the Malloy administration is concerned about the Secure Communities program because it fosters the perception that cooperating with the police is an invitation to be deported.

“The reason the governor feels so strongly about this is that if this action is not reserved for serious officers it will ultimately undermine relations between police and the immigrant community,” Lawlor said. “We’ve made this known repeatedly to ICE and others. We hope the judicial branch and local police will adopt the same policy as the department of corrections and the state police.”

Lawlor said his communications with ICE have been “quite frustrating.”

“ICE doesn’t have two-way conversations. They listen to your concerns,” he said. “They won’t explain why they make the decisions they make. They won’t tell you what they plan to do.”

On Thursday, ICE spokesman Feinstein offered this explanation: “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, repeatedly violated immigration law or are fugitives from immigration court.”

“There is no evidence that Mr. Islas is a serious offender,” Lawlor said. “I met with his family. I understand his life story. He’s not a poster child for Secure Communities.”

Prior to his arrest in July on the robbery charge, Islas was living in New Haven with his sister and her children, working at a factory in Hamden.

“This has been a nightmare for our family,” said his sister Juana Islas (pictured speaking at a rally at City Hall earlier this month) said in a press release sent out by immigrant advocacy organization Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA). “My brother has never been in trouble with the law. For eight years he has held a steady job and financially supported me and my children. My son looks to Josemaria like a second father, and he asks me, Mommy, when will my uncle come home?”

A press release quotes Mayor DeStefano saying, “I am resolute in my opposition to the ICE program known as Secure Communities. Josemaria’s case is unfortunately just one of too many cases where individuals with little to no criminal history are subject to deportation. I will be calling upon Secretary Janet Napolitano to review this case and to take action before Secure Communities separates yet another family.”

“We’re so grateful for this miracle that is happening, that our brother is going to be free from jail,” Juana Islas said in Spanish Thursday.