CP photo by Ryan Deto
Advocates for Martin Esquivel-Hernandez calling for Pittsburgh to become a sanctuary city
On Dec. 8, for the first time in seven months, Martin Esquivel-Hernandez was able to see his wife, Alma Brigido, face to face. Esquivel-Hernandez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant
, has been detained in a private prison in Youngstown, Ohio since May, when he was picked up by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) from his Pittsburgh home. His three children have visited him in prison throughout the year, but Brigido, who is also undocumented, wouldn’t visit out of fear of being detained by ICE.
But the reunion between husband and wife inside the federal courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh wasn’t a joyous occasion. Esquivel-Hernandez’s visit with his family was brief and ended with him being returned to prison in Youngstown. Brigido and the three children exited the courthouse with tear soaked faces and prayed outside the doors.
Pittsburgh City Paper
reported last month that Esquivel-Hernandez’s lawyer, Sally Frick, was negotiating a deal so that he would only be charged with a misdemeanor
, instead of felony illegal re-entry. This would have release Esquivel-Hernandez from his cell in Youngstown and given him a good chance at avoiding deportation.
However, Esquivel-Hernandez rejected the plea on Nov. 8 because the office of Western Pennsylvania District U.S. attorney Soo Song would only negotiate the charge down to illegal entry after deportation, a slightly different charge that still would have left Esquivel-Hernandez charged with a felony.
“Even this lesser offense still puts [Esquivel-Hernandez] under the priority for deportation,” said Frick. “We are trying to give him the best chance for staying in this country legally.”
Frick spoke to CP
after the hearing and said an illegal entry after deportation charge is considered a misdemeanor upon an immigrant's first offense. Frick said the U.S. attorney’s office told her that since Esquivel-Hernandez was already caught at the border and charged with this in 2011, an illegal entry charge would be upgraded to a felony. However, Frick said there are cases in districts close to the U.S.-Mexico border where undocumented immigrants have been charged with misdemeanors even after their first offense.
The U.S. Attorney’s office refused to comment on this case.
Antonia Domingo of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, who is advocating on Esquivel-Hernandez, said Song could also drop the case against Martin, which would be a boon to his chances of remaining in the U.S.
“They are completely able to [drop this case],” said Domingo. “And it would make sense since they are using government taxpayer resources to prosecute a man that does not deserve it.”
Frick said the U.S. attorneys have given her no indication they are willing to drop the case. But there is precedent for dropping illegal re-entry cases, including a case dropped against Francisco Aguirre-Velasquez
, from El Salvador, this May in Oregon. And former western Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney David Hickton dropped an illegal re-entry case
against Alfredo Ramos-Gallegos in 2014 in Erie. According to the motion to dismiss the case against Ramos-Gallegos, Hickton wrote in 2014 the U.S. government dismissed the case in "the interests of justice."
A jury trial is set for Esquivel Hernandez for Jan. 3, 2017 at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 3B at 700 Grant St., Downtown.
In response to the news that Esquivel-Hernandez would not be freed, a group of 60 advocates took to the streets and marched from the federal courthouse to the city-county building. Brigido spoke to the group about how Esquivel-Hernandez’s continual detainment is affecting her family.
“We were hopeful that he would be home for the holidays, but unfortunately that will not happen,” said Brigido in Spanish. “How am I supposed to explain to the children that their father will not be there for what is suppose to be a joyous time.”
Maria Duarte, a Chatham student an undocumented Mexican immigrant, asked Pittsburg city leaders to make the city a “sanctuary city,” where local law enforcement refuses to cooperate with ICE if they don’t have a warrant. Advocates say this policy is meant to protect law-abiding undocumented immigrants. Public Source
reported last week that Pittsburgh City Council is considering making Pittsburgh a sanctuary city
“We are here to demand that Pittsburgh declare itself a sanctuary city,” said Duarte to the crowd. “When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight back.”