NEW PALTZ, NEW YORK: Joel Guerrero, a New Paltz, New York, resident arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at his biannual check-in with ICE on March 1, is being held at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearney, New Jersey.
ICE arrested Guerrero at his appointment on the grounds that Joel had once missed a court date—in 2011. He was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana at that time. Because of that conviction, under the rules for immigrants, Guerrero was mandated to check in with ICE two times a year, which is a rule he complied with. Guerrero legally immigrated from the Dominican Republic two decades ago and has his green card. He has kept his papers up-to-date.
Guerrero has attended every court date since that missed one, but ICE yesterday put a deportation order in effect for the single court appearance that he missed five years ago, nonetheless.
He was accompanied on his regularly scheduled appointment in New York City with ICE by his wife Jessica, a U.S. citizen and New Paltz native who is six months pregnant with their first child.
In a report on social media, Jessica described the scene: “The ICE officer was literally ripping me from my husband’s arms. I really don’t know how I remained calm, but I turned to him and said, ‘You are breaking a family apart. I hope you are able to sleep well tonight.’ This is our country today. This is America.”
Yesterday, March 2, Guerrero’s case officer put him in front of a judge without representation, and the judge ordered his deportation.
Guerrero should have had representation made available to him yesterday, and he should have been offered other options, such as filing a motion for spousal relief. It is reported that his case officer falsely told him that these options and several others are not available to him, even though they are.
Joel Guerrero is a carpenter, newly married with a pregnant wife, and is primary caregiver for his fifteen-year-old nephew, whose mother is too ill to take care of him. Over the last five years, his life has been opening up.
According to an article in a Hudson Valley web site, Jessica Guerrero has “retained an immigration attorney and has been trying to persuade the Immigration and Naturalization authorities to allow him to resume his life in his adopted homeland and not send him back to the Dominican Republic.”
For years, a felony conviction was deemed sufficient cause for ICE to order a deportation of an immigrant. A criminal defense attorney told me that ICE officers regularly (long before the new presidential administration took office) visited the local courts to review the names of those newly convicted: those with surnames that look foreign were certain to receive visits from ICE officers.
On January 25, the U.S. President signed an executive order titled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” which expanded ICE’s definition of reasons for deportation: under previous administrations, ICE “prioritized those who had been convicted of serious crimes, were considered national security threats or were recent arrivals,” but the new executive order targets not only criminals “but also—among others—those who’ve been accused of crimes but not convicted, those who have engaged in document fraud, and those who ‘in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.'”
Accused, not convicted. Thus, a misdemeanor conviction could be deemed sufficient cause for deportation of a man with a new family who has kept in active communication with ICE even with his troubles with the law in his past. The possession conviction did not merit a jail sentence, but it may result in Guerrero’s deportation five years later.
As with the new president’s directionless directive that blocked travel from seven specific countries, this directive describes a vaporously vague ideal but gives little in the way of directions to those bureaucrats who are now tasked with implementing it.
ICE’s bureaucrats (just as Homeland Security’s bureaucrats in airports across the nation after the travel ban was announced) have been handed a task that vastly expands their job description and the number of people to be processed and the amount of paperwork, with no increase in agents hired. ICE has no interest in outsiders watching as it figures out how to implement a massive expansion of the organization’s mandate.
The current administration asked ICE to throw bureaucratic caution to the wind and arrest as many people as its agents could, with details like whether or not this or that individual ought to be arrested to be worked out later. And no matter how many were arrested nationally in recent weeks—hundreds so far—ICE and the new president have informed the public of the one or two who perhaps qualified under the old rules and definitions as arrest-worthy, such as an arrest featured in this article from Breitbart last week.
Joel Guerrero has complied with all that has been requested of him on his route to full citizenship. He had not evaded bureaucratic entanglements, and he felt secure enough in his status and in his life to marry.
What lesson ought any immigrant who is not as secure in his or her citizenship status or paperwork as Joel Guerrero take from this arrest and detention?
Jessica Guerrero told local media yesterday that the best they can hope for is self-deportation: “If he voluntarily leaves, he won’t have the deportation on his record, and we would have more options in terms of countries where we would be able to actually go. [But] if this happens and he is deported, I will absolutely go with him. He is my husband. We are having a child together. This is my life. It’s not what I want but I couldn’t be apart from him.”
(Full disclosure: New Paltz is my former hometown, and it is a small community. I personally have been acquainted with Jessica Guerrero and last spoke with her about four years ago. I did not know she was newly married or pregnant.)
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