UPDATED, April 29: When a GoFundMe page was established to help the family of Joel and Jessica Guerrero of New Paltz, New York, some 400 people donated $16,165 to the family of Joel and Jessica Guerrero within days. The community grew from immediate neighbors and family to the rest of the nation and beyond borders. When we remember that we are all cousins, the world shrinks in happy ways.
The fundraiser was closed at the start of April, but Joel remains in federal custody, detained by ICE. A petition on Change.org to free Joel has attracted almost 1000 signatures and many more are needed: “Please Stand With Joel & Jessica Guerrero.”
My column from March 5, 2017, with some corrections (thank you, Jessica Guerrero):
* * * *
With Joel Guerrero arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at his regularly scheduled biannual appointment on February 28 in New York City, the Guerrero family (Mr. Guerrero serves as primary caregiver for his fifteen-year-old nephew) has lost its primary income. Mrs. Guerrero was suddenly thrust into a life in which she now needs assistance with rent, groceries, basic living expenses. Mr. Guerrro is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who is a green card holder, which entitles him to legal residency in the U.S.
In a post on Facebook, Jessica wrote yesterday: “I visited Joel today and he is so grateful for the outpouring of support and love from our community. He sends his gratitude to each and everyone one of you for taking care of his family through this—whether it has been through kind words, prayers, donations, offers to help, etc. He (and I) want to again express our love and gratitude.”
ThinkProgress featured Joel Guerrero’s arrest in a March 3 article about the new administration’s ICE arrests: “Meet 3 dads detained by ICE this week.”
Joel Guerrero 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 had been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana in 2005, and 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 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.”
Jessica Guerrero told ThinkProgress that when Joel was detained, he was brought back into the main room to give his wife his shoelaces, belt, and wedding band. She reported: “I said to the [ICE] officer, ‘Why is this happening’ and he said to me, ‘The Trump administration is telling us to enforce everything.’ He said to me, ‘This is because we’re told now that we can enforce these orders.’ At that point I said, ‘This is America. This is a man who works five, if not seven, days a week. We’re married. We have a child on the way. We just moved to a new apartment and we have a nephew. How can you do this?'”
On 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. I have not yet met Joel but I hope to someday. I donated to the GoFundMe fundraiser.)
* * * *
Guererro’s family has been put in touch with the Immigrant Defense Project, a group that has many resources for families affected by the current situation across the nation and for communities (like New Paltz) who want to help members who have been unfairly detained. The Immigrant Defense Project’s phone number is (212) 725-6422.
In online conversations, one individual also suggested the Legal Aid Society of New York’s Immigration Law Unit. That organization’s help line is (844) 955-3425.
Follow The Gad About Town on Facebook! Subscribe today for daily facts (well, trivia) about literature and history, plus links to other writers on Facebook.
Follow The Gad About Town on Instagram!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.