New Paltz resident Joel Guerrero, who became a local symbol of what many residents feel is overreach on the part of the Trump administration when he was detained Feb. 28 for a charge nearly a decade old, was released the morning of Wednesday, May 10. His deportation case is still pending, but it appears that he will be present for the birth of his child, due later this month.
Guerrero, a legal resident of the country, first ran afoul of the law by receiving a marijuana charge in 2009. When he missed a scheduled immigration court hearing the following year, his green card was revoked. After Obama administration policy ratcheted back deportations of non-violent criminals, Guerrero attended his mandated immigration check-ins without incident. The appointment in February was just after President Trump began a nationwide crackdown, and he was detained with the intent to hold a deportation hearing.
What happened next, according to Move Forward New York founding member and New Paltz resident Glenn Geher, was that community members made a unified effort to support Guerrero and his wife Jessica, who is a longtime New Paltz resident. “It was full sail on this,” he said, which included letters and phone calls to Congressman John Faso as well as other elected officials, including Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I spoke at two different rallies, and made his case a focal point,” Geher recalled.
At the local level, Deputy Supervisor Dan Torres brought Guerrero’s case to his colleagues on the town council, and they unanimously adopted a resolution urging his release. Torres and others also actively raised funds to pay the expected legal bills; more than $18,000 was raised in about a week. Letters to local papers were also part of the campaign.
Guerrero’s case inspired Torres to propose a so-called “sanctuary” law for the town, under which police are curtailed in how much cooperation they can offer to federal officials seeking to enforce federal immigration laws. That law, now passed, would not have kept Guerrero free due to the circumstances of his arrest.
The specifics around Guerrero’s release were not clear as of press time — his wife would not speak to that question citing advice from their attorney — but Geher believes that the activism had an impact. “Jessica seems to support that perspective on Facebook,” he said.
What she was willing to do was express gratitude to the members of the community who came to her family’s aid in their time of need. “We can’t thank everyone enough,” she said. “Aside from the financial aspect, the love and support of New Paltz has literally gotten me through this. I’ve made so many new friends, and we have so many new people who are like family to us now. The posters hung in the businesses of New Paltz, people reaching out to me to help with the preparation for the baby; these are the things that define a community.”
A spokesperson for Faso had this to say about the case on Wednesday: “In March Congressman Faso made an inquiry into the case to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Details were not discussed for the purposes of privacy and confidentiality.”