Connecticut Residents Give Up National Borders for Lent 2012-2013

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Time Period:  
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
State-wide; particular focus on cities of New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport
To halt the deportation of Jose Maria Islas and to cease Connecticut law enforcement's compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "Secure Communities" program in cases where violent crimes were not committed.

In 2008, the Federal Government of the United States launched a program called “Secure Communities” that would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to review records of suspects in the custody of local and state police. In cases where officials found out that prisoners were in the country illegally, officials could issue detainer orders for local police to keep the prisoner in custody and begin deportation proceedings. The effect of this enforcement policy was that undocumented immigrants arrested on minor traffic infractions—or even individuals reporting a crime that they had witnessed or been victim of—risked being deported, regardless of whether they had family in the United States or not.

In April 2012, Connecticut governor Dan Molloy guided the state department of corrections to institute new protocols about immigration and customs enforcement’s “secure communities” program. In particular, he agreed to review detainer requests on a case-by-case basis and to only honor detainer requests in cases where the individual involved represented an active threat due to their history of violent crimes or violent gang involvement. Officials in the governor’s office also expressed that immigration and customs enforcement should only issue detainer requests for violent criminals. They expressed that fear of deportation among undocumented immigrants was discouraging them from reporting crimes that they had witnessed or been victim of, and that this in turn prevented police from serving these communities effectively.

Police arrested Jose Maria Islas on 2 July 2012 and charged him with attempted robbery—a crime that he did not commit and that occurred during a time when he was at work. After detaining Islas for four months, a judge reduced the charge against him to a misdemeanor charge of breach of the peace, which Islas settled. Islas entered the state’s accelerated rehabilitation program, which would clear the charges from his record after three months, as long as Islas met certain conditions.

On 31 October, court marshals turned Jose Maria Islas over to immigration and customs enforcement. Because court marshals operate under the judicial branch (rather than the department of corrections) they were not restricted under Governor Molloy’s April guidelines for honoring immigration and customs enforcement detainers. Even though Islas was not guilty of a violent crime, immigrations and custom enforcement described him as a “high priority” deportation because he had been caught crossing the border four times previously. Members of Unidad Latina en Acción held a press conference at City Hall in New Haven on 1 November, calling on the governor to ask federal authorities to halt Islas’ deportation and voicing their protest.

Unidad Latina en Acción and Yale University’s Seminarians for a Democratic Society organized a rally outside of the New Haven courthouse on 21 January 2013, the same day as the inauguration ceremony of President Obama’s second term. The protest was co-sponsored by a number of secular and religious organizations, including Amistad Catholic Worker, Comunidad Inmigrante de East Haven, Junta for Progressive Action, the New Haven People’s Center, and the Immigration Rights Task Force of the Unitarian Society of New Haven. The next day, Seminarians for a Democratic Society and Unidad Latina en Acción co-hosted a faith-based dinner for community members to discuss deportation and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement “Secure Communities” Program that had led to the deportation of more than 375 New Haven residents.

On 15 February 2013, a coalition of faith-based and secular organizing groups launched a “Lent Without Borders” campaign. In reference to the custom of “giving something up” for Lent, the community groups declared that they would be giving up national borders, as well as engaging in direct action on each Friday during the 40 days of Lent. Their first action was a hymnal sing-in at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in New Haven.

On 21 February, a federal immigration judge ordered that Jose Maria Islas should be deported back to Mexico within 30 days. Approximately 60 protesters, including members of Unidad Latina en Acción, rallied outside of the courthouse. Four protesters sat down and linked arms in front of the courthouse doors, blocking them, until they were arrested by federal marshals.

On 25 February, State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield introduced the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) act into the Connecticut house of Representatives. The bill limited Connecticut law enforcement’s compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests to cases involving violent and serious crimes. The California state legislature had previously passed a similar bill, but the governor had subsequently vetoed it.

That same day, a coalition of 25 community organizations formed a new coalition, the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance. The Alliance released a statement of its goals, which included promoting paths to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants and ceasing deportations until federal immigration reforms were finalized.

On 1 March, approximately 36 Lent Without Borders protesters gathered at Kimberly Triangle Park in New Haven for hymnal singing in English and Spanish, as well as workers’ testimonies. Protesters included members of Ascension Church in the Hill, Amistad Catholic Worker, and Seminarians for a Democratic Society.

On 3 March, the national Keeping Families Together Bus Tour stopped at New Haven City Hall as a part of a day of grassroots workshops organized by Junta for Progressive Action and the Ascension Church in the Hill. Seventy-five people, including some members of Mecha de Yale, attended the public meetings and storytelling.

The Lent Without Borders campaign also continued, with protests, prayer vigils, and singing on 8 March at the Bridgeport Police Station and 15 March at the Ribicoff Federal Courthouse in Hartford. Reports from these protests indicate that many armed police were present and monitoring them.

The Brazilian Immigrant Center of Bridgeport and Connecticut Students for a DREAM organized a prayer vigil in Danbury, Connecticut on 25 March. Local congregations and interfaith organizations, including the Unitarian Universalist Church of Danbury and the St. James Episcopal church, sponsored the gathering in front of the Danbury Public Library.

On Good Friday (29 March 2013), the Lent Without Borders campaign organized a protest and vigil on the New Haven Green, a major public square. Spiritual and community leaders, including Unidad Latina en Accion members Carina Guevara and Rafael Zamora, made speeches and described the life-threatening struggles of immigrants attempting to cross into the United States. Protesters placed 179 white crosses on the green to represent the lowest available estimate of the number of immigrants who had died at the United States/Mexico border from 2011 to 2012.

On 2 April, approximately 30 protestors gathered outside of the New Haven offices of United States Representative Rosa DeLauro to protest Representative DeLauro’s inaction with regards to deportations in Connecticut. Protesters remained outside DeLauro’s offices for three hours, stating that they wanted concrete actions in support of Jose Maria Islas and other immigrants facing deportation proceedings. Protesters then left to attend a news conference with United States Senator Richard Blumenthal and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., where both leaders stated their opposition to the federal “Secure Communities” program.

The Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance organized simultaneous protests for 9 April, with rallies in Bridgeport, Danbury, and New Haven. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. helped to lead the New Haven marchers in chants. State Representative Roland Lemar and Undersecretary of Criminal Justice Mike Lawlor both spoke at the rally, stating their support for the state-level “Safe Driving” bill that would permit undocumented immigrants to obtain legal driving permits and auto insurance. 100 people marched in the Bridgeport protest. State Senator Andres Ayala Jr. gave a speech in both English and Spanish.

The 9 April protests were then followed by even larger protests the next day, as part of a national day of action on immigration reform. The Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance organized a protest in Hartford, the Connecticut state capitol, with rallies at both the old State House and the State Capitol building connected by a march of 250 people. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra joined the march as the protesters passed City Hall. College students presented State Representatiaves Juan Candelaria and Gary Holder-Winfield with an immigration reform petition with more than 900 signatures. Legislators, including State Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey, voiced their support for both the safe driving act and the TRUST act. On 11 April, the Connecticut Immigrant and Refugee Coalition organized celebrations for its 16th annual Immigrant Day in the state capitol in Hartford, which included speeches by Governor Molloy.

Lawmakers began to act directly to intervene in the case of Jose Maria Islas. On 15 April, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy sent a letter to the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, stating his support for Jose Maria Islas and opposing his deportation. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal followed suit, sending his own letter opposing Islas’ deportation on April 18. Jose Maria Islas was due to be deported on 29 April. The day before, the Amistad Catholic Worker House held a prayer vigil for him in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven.

Jose Maria Islas was able to remain in the United States past this date, as a federal judge granted a temporary deportation reprieve. Islas was therefore able to participate in a major demonstration in New Haven on 1 May. This protest march included United States Representative Rosa DeLauro and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy in addition to Islas. More than 700 people marched and attended a rally on the New Haven Green. The key organizers included Junta for Progressive Action, CT Students for a DREAM, Communidad de East Haven, and the Latino Advocacy Foundation of Bridgeport. Marchers also carried signs featuring “Keeping Families Together” slogans.

Islas’ reprieve from deportation was short-lived, and on 20 May a Judge denied his request for a stay of deportation. Islas was sent to Bristol County House of Correction in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to await deportation back to Mexico. This deportation was again temporarily put on hold as Islas’ lawyer, Danielle Briand, requested that the judge re-open Islas’ case on constitutional grounds. Briand argued that deportation was a disproportionate and unjust penalty for the crime of undocumented entry into the country. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal sent a second letter to John Morton, asking again that Morton stay Islas’ order of deportation. Blumenthal pointed out recent judiciary and legislative measures that would have prevented cases like Islas’ from being passed on to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Campaign Outcomes:

The two state-level immigration reforms under consideration progressed quickly. The TRUST act passed the Connecticut House of Representatives on 22 May and the Connecticut Senate on 31 May. Both votes were unanimous. The Safe Driving act passed the House on 23 May and the Senate on 30 May.

A federal immigration judge granted Jose Maria Islas a one-year stay of deportation on 6 October 2013.

Research Notes

TRUST act introduced by Gary Holder-Winfield very similar to TRUST act that had been passed (and then vetoed by the governor) in California. (1) The Connecticut TRUST and Safe Driving acts went on to be models for other states, including Massachusetts (2).

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De La Torre, Vanessa. “BLUMENTHAL, ACTIVISTS PUSH FOR IMMIGRATION OVERHAUL \ HARTFORD.” Hartford Courant, The (CT) 5 Feb. 2013.

De La Torre, Vanessa. “Immigration Activists, Faith Groups Rally Outside Hartford Federal Building.” Hartford Courant 15 Mar. 2013. Web.


FitzGerald, Eileen. “Rally to Call Attention to Deportations.” News-Times, The (Danbury, CT) 26 Mar. 2013. Web.

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Additional Notes: 
Additional groups joining in Segment 3:

New Haven People's Center

Unitarian Society of New Haven

Centro do Imigrante Brasileiro Bridgeport

Greater New Haven Peace Council

United Church on the Green

Shalom United Church of Christ

First and Summerfield United Methodist Church

Unitarian Universalist Society of New Haven

Additional Groups Joining in Segment 4:

Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission


Center for Latino Progress

United Action Connecticut

Oficina Catolica de Justicia Social de la Arquidiocesis de Hartford

Center for New Economy

American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut

Apostle Immigrant Services

Connecticut Coalition to Stop Indefinite Detention

Somos Connecticut

African American Affairs Commision


International Institute of Connecticut

New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

Additional groups joining in Segment 5:

Unitarian Universalist Church of Danbury

St. James Episcopal Church, Danbury

John DeStefano Jr., Mayor of New Haven

UNITE-HERE Local 217

Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut

Mike Lawlor, Connecticut Undersecretary of Criminal Justice

Connecticut State Senator Roland Lemar

Connecticut State Senator Andres Ayala Jr.

Pedro Segarra, Mayor of Hartford

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

AFT Connecticut

Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Connecticut AFL-CIO

Connecticut Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Mar Firke 02/03/2014