Wilmer Irías-Palma is days away from being deported from the country by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, even though his civil rights complaint alleging ICE used racial profiling to nab him remains under investigation.
Irías-Palma was told Tuesday morning that he would be deported Friday.
The news came a day after his wife appeared at a Washington, D.C., news conference in support of workers rights and met with advocates discussing how to get protection for immigrants illegally here with civil rights complaints.
“We think this is obvious retaliation,” said Jennifer Rosenbaum, legal and policy director for New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice.
Irías-Palma has been kept in detention, despite being awarded a stay of deportation after he filed his complaint.
“I think they are trying to deport the evidence,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the center. “I think they moved up the departure date because of public outcry and the anticipation of bad publicity in coming weeks.”
ICE would not address the allegations. However spokesman Bryan Cox said in a statement that ICE's Criminal Alien Removal Initiative is a national strategy focused on identifying, arresting and removing criminal aliens who pose a risk to community safety. "ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately," Cox said. He said ICE fugitive operations are directed to prioritize their targets based on the "totality of an individual's public safety threat beyond their status as an immigration fugitive."
Palma, originally from Honduras, arrived in New Orleans in 2006, as did many Latinos after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city a year earlier. He went on to become a part owner and a mechanic at Primo’s Auto Repairs and Sales in Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans. He has no criminal record, but was deported once before and re-entered the U.S. illegally, a felony punishable by up to two year for people who have not committed other crimes.
Irías-Palma’s civil rights complaint is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. That office asked ICE to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” on his deportation and he received a stay of deportation but was forced to stay in detention.
Irías-Palma has alleged in his complaint, along with Yestel Velasquez and Melvin Bardales-Deras, that ICE is racially profiling Latinos in New Orleans area by targeting neighborhoods and businesses frequented by Latinos, conducting stop-and-frisk operations on anyone with features the agents consider to be Latino and fingerprinting people using mobile devices based on their appearance. Yestel also was to be deported Friday.
The workers center gathered with other groups in Washington, D.C., to discuss how they could get President Barack Obama to shield from deportation through executive order people like Irías-Palma.
This past May, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided Palma’s shop and a second one nearby, arriving in unmarked vehicles and detaining, fingerprinting and arresting people inside and outside the auto shop. Twelve Latinos were arrested, but several others were released, according to the complaint.
The fingerprinting is being done with mobile devices that are increasingly used to target immigrants. Irías-Palma had been previously deported and returned to the U.S. The Obama administration said it focuses on criminals for deportation. Returning after deportation is a felony under U.S. law.
Advocacy groups have complained that the devices have led to increased racial profiling and civil rights violations. They have been used in the New Orleans area as part of the Criminal Alien Removal Inititative, or CARI.
While being fingerprinted, Bardales-Deras said he saw a photo on the computer screen of the fingerprinting device of a recent protest in front of the ICE New Orleans field office. The gathering was a protest of ICE CARI raids that Bardales-Deras had attended, according to the complaint.
Soni and other advocates said it is problematic to essentially leave it to ICE to “guard” the evidence _ the complainants _ in cases involving civil rights complaints against its own agents and offices. Once deported, it is more difficult to gather testimonies and other information from complainants, Rosenbaum said.
Decisions on deportation deferrals should be made by Citizenship and Immigration Services, another division of DHS, Soni said.
“The idea that as a result of bringing forward a civil rights complaint you are then incarcerated until the agency you are complaining about decides there was a (valid complaint), it undercuts every concept of fairness and due process we have in this country,” Soni said.
The workers center gathered Monday with other groups in Washington, D.C., to discuss how they could get President Barack Obama to shield from deportation through executive order people like Irías-Palma.
“Workers rights and civil rights need to be a fundamental part of any administrative relief or enforcement reform that the president signs into policy,” Soni said. “This case is emblematic why.”
The president has not said he plans to extend deportation deferrals beyond the young immigrants given them through the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. He has said, in light of House Republicans’ failure to move on immigration reform, he is considering options and advocates have been pushing for an extension of the deportation deferrals.