CP photo by Ryan Deto
Martin Esquivel-Hernandez (center) at an immigrant-rights rally in Beechview
At 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 9, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers made their intentions known on how they intend to handle the case of Martín Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh resident and undocumented immigrant from Mexico.
“Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez has two misdemeanor convictions, one from 2012 and 2017, and federal authorities removed him to Mexico four times since 2011, with the latest removal taking place in 2012,” wrote ICE officials in an email to City Paper
. “As a result, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has designated Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez’s case as a priority for immigration enforcement.”
Esquivel-Hernandez has lived in Pittsburgh for more than four years, with his wife, three children (including a U.S. citizen son). He supports his family by working in the residential construction industry. He is active at two Pittsburgh churches and has become a volunteer and advocate in the region’s Latino community. Other than two minor traffic citations (driving without a valid license, which he can’t legally obtain in Pennsylvania), Esquivel-Hernandez has no local criminal record. His only two aforementioned misdemeanors are illegal entry and intentionally falsifying identification; he did both these crimes to escape his gang-riddled Mexico City slum
and reunite with his young family, who had moved to the U.S. before him.
Mount Lebanon Police, who cited Esquivel-Hernandez for driving without a valid license, contacted ICE shortly after citing him. He was picked up by ICE the day after participating in a immigrant-rights rally
on May 2. He has been in custody ever since, mostly at a for-profit, private prison in Youngstown, Ohio.
Guillermo Perez, of Pittsburgh Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, who has spent months advocating on behalf of Esquivel-Hernandez, says ICE should not make any decisions regarding Esquivel-Hernandez before it learns more about him. LCLAA filed a stay on behalf of Esquivel-Hernandez on Jan. 9, in hopes that ICE officers have more time to review his case before deporting him.
"It’s puzzling to us why ICE would issue this statement on the same day that they know [LCLAA is] filing an application for a stay for [Esquivel-Hernandez's] order of deportation," wrote Perez in an email to CP
. "It suggests that they’re not interested in hearing from the many local faith, labor, and community leaders who have submitted compelling letters of support for Martín, or from the more than 1,000 Pittsburghers who have signed the online petition urging that he be returned to his family and community."
For the first eight months of his detention, Esquivel-Hernandez was under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia ICE field office and was only transferred to the Detroit field office in late December 2016.
After a seven-month campaign, during which advocates for Esquivel-Hernandez held rallies; received support from politicians like Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto
and Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Swissvale); and participated in prayer circles with faith-leaders
, Esquivel-Hernandez’s lawyer Sally Frick was able to negotiate a plea deal that would lessen his initial felony charge to a misdemeanor and give him the best chance at avoiding deportation
“This case was resolved in a way to avoid deportation consequences for [Esquivel-Hernandez],” says Perez. “The U.S. attorney [Soo Song] and district judge [Donetta Ambrose] are with us, that he should not be deported.”
During Esquivel-Hernandez’s sentencing hearing in December, Ambrose said “[Esquivel-Hernandez shows] nothing that threatens society in any way. I believe [his] motives were pure in coming here.”
In response to the news Esquivel-Hernandez could be deported Jan. 10, a group of Pittsburghers are pulling out all the stops to get ICE Detroit field officer Rebecca Adducci to drop the detainer against Esquivel-Hernandez and allow him to return to his family in Pittsburgh. Dozens of phone calls have flooded the voicemail of Adducci.
“We are racing against the clock,” says Perez. “We are trying to show the best that we can that [Esquivel-Hernandez] should not be deported. I don’t know what else we can do.”
Perez says LCLAA has submitted a request for prosecutorial discretion to Adducci that details how Esquivel-Hernandez doesn’t fit into the current ICE guidelines for priorities for enforcement. (He has not been convicted of a felony, has been present in U.S. since before 2014, and was not discovered near the border.)
Esquivel-Hernandez's advocates fear his fate may be sealed due to Seneca County Jail's bad reputation
in terms of how they treat ICE detainees; according to stats from Syracuse University, the facility deports immigrants at a higher rate than the national average
However, Perez says that people should not give up the fight. He says people can still call Adducci at 313-568-6036 or sign a petition
and ask her to drop the detainer. “Now is the time, to sign the petition, and call Rebecca Adducci and demand that we need Martín Esquivel-Hernandez back," Perez says. "Now is the time.”