Obama

A couple of Connecticut cases highlight the flaws in President Obama's immigration policy. (Chuck Kennedy / The White House / June 4, 2009)

Jose Maria Islas and Clayton Richard Gordon wouldn't seem to have all that much in common.

One is Hispanic, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who lives in New Haven and works at a factory in Hamden. The other is black, arrived in this country legally at age six from Jamaica, served honorably in the U.S. Army, has his own business and lives with his young family in Bloomfield.

What binds them together is the ongoing controversy over our deeply flawed national immigration system and the efforts of federal officials to get both men out of the country.

For more than a year, Islas has been a symbol in Connecticut of what's wrong with the Obama administration's deportation policies. And it now looks like Gordon may become the next cause célèbre for this state's immigration activists.

After demonstrations, protests by local and state officials and repeated pleas by members of Connecticut's congressional delegation, officials of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have just granted Islas a 12-month reprieve on his deportation order.

Islas is now back at his factory job in Hamden, hoping to help pay off some of the $10,000 in debts he's racked up fighting his legal battles.

Gordon is currently sitting in a prison cell in Greenfield, Mass. Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union urged a federal judge last week to at least give Gordon the opportunity to post bail while his deportation order is being appealed.

"It's horrible," says Gordon's fiancé, Kim Wierzchowski.

Wierzchowski is 28 and Gordon 10 years older. They met about four years ago, fell in love, and bought their first house together in Bloomfield. She's a registered nurse; Gordon owns his own small contracting business in Hartford. They have a three-year-old son named Dillon.

"My son, I can't take him there [the prison in Massachusetts] to see his father," she says. "He's only three, so I tell him his daddy is at work… What else can I say?"

"Dillon asks for him every night, and he prays his daddy can come home from work soon," Wierzchowski says.

Officials in the Obama administration say their deportation policies are now only supposed to target hard-core criminals like drug dealers, rapists, and murderers.

Neither Islas nor Gordon seems to fit into that category.

The "serious" offense on Islas' record was that he made four unsuccessful attempts in 2005 to cross into the U.S. to find work, was picked up each time and sent back over the Mexican border. He finally made it on his fifth try and found his way to New Haven and a job at that Hamden factory.

He was picked up by Hamden cops in June 2012 on what turned out to be bogus suspicion of being involved in a bicycle theft. (Immigration activists says police were looking for a "short, brown man" and found Islas while he was on his lunch break.)

The original charges were dropped but Islas ended up pleading guilty to disorderly conduct simply to get out of jail after four months. Part of his plea bargain was a special probation, which he completed, and all charges were erased from his record.

That didn't stop state marshals from turning Islas over to ICE, despite a Connecticut policy that's supposed to prevent nonviolent undocumented immigrants like Islas from being deported. Federal officials ordered his deportation but finally caved in from all the public pressure and granted him that one-year stay.

"He's working, he's trying to raise the money to pay off the debts he incurred," says John Lugo, an activist with New Haven-based Unidad Latina en Accion.

Lugo says that group is hoping to do some fundraising to help Islas out, but it also needs funding to work on four other Connecticut deportation cases, including Gordon's.

Gordon came onto ICE's deportation radar because of a past drug conviction, even though he was a legal resident of the United States.