Saturday, July 20, 2024

Guest Blogger: Kica Matos “A Life On Hold”

Kica MatosBarring a miracle, Josemaria Islas will be deported next month, sent back to a country that he left eight years ago. After that he will become a statistic, one of over a million people that the Obama Administration has arrested, incarcerated and ejected from the US. Last year alone, a record 409,849 immigrants were deported, more than the entire population of Miami, Florida.

While these staggering numbers are broadly known, less considered are the heartbreaking stories — of families ripped apart, communities irreparably broken, economic deprivation and deep human suffering.

Josemaria’s story is one such nightmare. Walking with his coworker to lunch from his job in a pork rind factory, police arrested him for an attempted bike theft that happened while he was at work. He spent four months in jail before a judge ordered him released.

Instead of walking out a free man and heading home to be with his family, the state marshals who run Connecticut’s jails and operate under the federal Secure Communities program turned him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  ICE locked him in a detention center. Finally, last November, an immigration judge granted bail and Josemaria now anxiously waits in his adopted Connecticut city of New Haven counting the days before he is put on a plane headed to Mexico.

In New Haven, Josemaria is far from a statistic. Instead, he is a valued and respected member of this community. His mother, brother, sister and small nephews all live nearby.  His steady employment provides financial support to his mother and sister. He belongs to a church, and is an active member of a local immigrant rights organization, where he volunteers his time helping other immigrants. The city’s mayor and the Governor’s office have called on ICE to halt his deportation.  Yet, despite the city’s valiant efforts to wrap its arms around Josemaria, ICE has refused to exercise prosecutorial discretion, actively fighting to see that he is deported.

After decades of struggle, the immigrant rights movement finds itself at a unique cross point.  We have new found political clout from massive electoral organizing, a President who has prioritized reform in his second term, and Republican leadership that appears to recognize the need to be on the right side of this issue.

The movement to bring about reform is bigger than it has ever been, and continues to gather strength. Joining us in this fight are people from across the political spectrum: labor and business; as well as faith, civil rights, environmental and LGBT advocates.  All recognize that the time for reform is now, and that we must capitalize on our clout and work as never before to fix our broken system. There are 11 million Josemarias out there and we will lose many more until we act.

By a twist of fate, a decent hardworking man walking to get a sandwich ended up being ripped from his family and livelihood. If we succeed, Josemaria’s story will hopefully be one of the last ones we hear — of broken hearts, devastated families and uprooted communities.

Kica Matos is Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change.  A long-time advocate, community organizer and lawyer, she has devoted most of her professional life to advancing social justice issues including immigration reform, abolition of the death penalty and racial justice. She is a recipient of several awards including the John F. Kennedy “New Frontier Award.”


  1. Josemaria’s story is so sad. My hope is that he will one day be united with his family here in the US. Thank you for sharing his story.