What was supposed to be a routine check-in with immigration officials turned into a harsh lesson in new enforcement priorities for a New Paltz resident. Now town officials, two U.S. senators and dozens of community members are rallying to halt the deportation of local carpenter and musician Joel Guerrero.
According to his wife Jessica, Guerrero, a green-card holder originally from the Dominican Republic, was “ripped from her arms” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers when the couple traveled to New York City on Monday for Joel’s biannual interview with the agency. According to his wife, the interviews have been a requirement since 2007 when Guerrero was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in North Carolina and failed to appear for a court hearing. Guerrero said that her husband had appeared for subsequent court dates and was eventually convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession. Other than the requirement for routine check-ins with ICE, she said, the conviction had not affected her husband’s immigration status until Monday.
There, she said, the couple was informed by two ICE agents that they planned to enforce an existing deportation order against Guerrero immediately. Jessica Guerrero, six months pregnant with the couple’s first child, said that the officers then physically separated her from her husband and took him into custody. Since then, Joel Guerrero has been locked up in an ICE detention facility. His wife has been working frantically to secure his release.
On Wednesday, she said, Joel told her he had been awakened at 2 a.m. for a hearing before a judge. He was told the immigration order was lawful and could be enforced immediately.
“This is like bad dream,” said Jessica Guerrero. “I never imagined this could happen.”
Representatives for ICE did not respond to requests for comment by deadline. But Guerrero’s detention appears to be part a broader immigration crackdown under orders from president Donald J. Trump. New guidelines promulgated by the Department of Homeland Security in accordance with White-House directives give immigration authorities a free hand to deport undocumented immigrants and lawful resident aliens previously considered a low priority for enforcement action.
Many of the arrests, like Guerrero’s, have taken place at routine check-in required for green-card holders convicted of relatively minor crimes like marijuana possession and unlicensed driving. After a years-long crackdown that earned former president Barrack Obama the title “Deporter in Chief,” immigration officials had in recent years backed off enforcing deportation orders for those convicted of low-level misdemeanors. The change in policy is likely to impact thousands of legal residents who are unaware that deportation orders filed years ago but never acted on are likely to be enforced at any time.
The Guerreros have hired an attorney and enlisted the aid of local officials in her fight to win her husband’s freedom. On Thursday, New Paltz’s town board voted 4-0 to draft a letter to immigration authorities seeking Guerrero’s release. Deputy town supervisor Dan Torres, who brought the issue to the board’s attention, said that he had already reached out to local representatives for U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and received word that both offices were making inquiries in the case.
“It’s the job of local government to look out for its most vulnerable residents,” said New Paltz town supervisor Neil Bettez. “The least we can do as a community is to stand up and say that we’re not in favor of this family being torn apart.”