Legislation introduced by Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield would close what he calls a loophole in the the state’s immigration policy which led to deportation proceedings against an immigrant living in New Haven.
Despite a policy enacted last year by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, judicial marshals turned over Mexican immigrant Josemaria Islas federal immigration authorities, who have been pursuing his deportation.
Malloy ordered Department of Corrections staff and State Police not to honor the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency’s Secure Communities “detainer” requests unless the person in question poses a serious threat to national security or public safety.
Islas was arrested when police charged him with robbery. He took advantage of a judicial program under a lesser charge and was expected to be released. But marshals, who work for the Judicial Branch rather than one of Malloy’s executive agencies, turned Islas over to ICE.
Holder-Winfield, a Democrat from New Haven, spoke at a Tuesday press conference by an alliance of advocates calling for immigration reform. He said he hopes to prevent future cases like Islas’ by codifying Malloy’s policy in statute and requiring marshals and municipal police departments to follow it.
“Let’s just be very clear, our policy is: we don’t comply with ICE detainers unless you have a [high level] offender. The way to do that is write a piece of legislation that says that includes local police, judicial marshals, the Department of Corrections and any of the places an individual may interface with someone who may turn them over to ICE,” he said.
Holder-Winfield said Islas wouldn’t be in his current predicament if the bill had been in place in October when he was given over to the feds. He said he didn’t expect all of his colleagues in the legislature to support his proposal.
“I don’t think everybody’s in the same space on this one. Some people look at as ‘These people have broken the law, so therefore we have to punish them. Why wouldn’t we turn them over to ICE,’” he said.
But until the country enacts immigration reform, Holder-Winfield said there is nothing to stop deported individuals from returning.
Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s criminal justice adviser, said the administration supports the legislation.
Rep. Tony Hwang, the only Republican to appear at Tuesday’s press conference, said he wasn’t familiar enough with Holder-Winfield’s proposal to say whether he supports it. Hwang, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from China when he was eight, said he wanted to see immigration policy focus less on enforcement.
“We always argue and fight about the enforcement we should take a step back and look at it as a human element. There are people earnestly trying to come to this country and make a better life,” he said.
Islas spoke briefly through an interpreter at Tuesday’s press conference and called himself a victim of the nation’s immigration policy. He credited President Barack Obama with talking about reforming immigration, but said the federal government should stop deporting people.
“It’s very sad when the families they broke are innocent,” he said.