Community members are rallying around a popular chef at a Midtown Kingston pub who may be deported back to his native Mexico.
Juan Carlos Alonso Vasquez is the latest in a series of high-profile immigration arrests that have sharpened debate around the issue amid President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants and those with criminal records.
Vasquez, 29, worked as the head grill chef at The Anchor, a popular restaurant, bar and music venue on Broadway. On Wednesday, July 18, he was set to come in early to help out with prep work after last Tuesday’s power outage. Instead, Anchor co-owner Brandy Walters said, she received a call from Vazquez who told her he had been detained by immigration agents and was headed to a detention center.
For Walters, who said she thought Vazquez was a legal permanent resident, news of his arrest came as a shock. “He had ID, he paid taxes, I don’t know what the issue was,” said Walters.
According to a statement from the U.S. Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement New York Field Office, Vazquez is an “illegally present citizen and national of Mexico. He entered the United States at an unknown place and time in violation of immigration law and was arrested by ICE officers on July 18 in Kingston, N.Y. He is currently in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.”
It’s unclear what prompted Vazquez’s arrest. Walters noted that he had a previous misdemeanor conviction for DWI, but she said the case had been disposed of seven years ago and Vazquez had never had trouble with immigration authorities previously. Vazquez’s attorney did not return calls for comment. One aspect of the ongoing immigration crackdown has been a change in Justice Department policy regarding immigrants, even legal immigrants, previously convicted of crimes. In the past, immigration officials had discretion over whether to seek removal of those convicted of relatively minor crimes. That discretion has since been rescinded and immigration prosecutors have been told to seek removal of any immigrant eligible for deportation based on a criminal conviction.
Walters described Vazquez as a skilled chef who handled a busy grill with grace and an upbeat attitude. His loss, she said, had prompted The Anchor to cut back business hours and menu options. Meanwhile, she said, staff and patrons are rallying to the embattled chef by way of a letter-writing campaign. Walters invited Anchor patrons and other supporters to drop off “letters for Carlos” at the bar. All told, Walters said, the effort garnered 140 letters of support. Walters said that the letters would be delivered to Vasquez, who is currently in ICE detention at the Orange County Jail.
Walters said he hoped the letters would serve to boost her former chef’s spirits, as well as serve as evidence of his good standing in the community during the removal process. She started a Gofundme campaign to help pay legal expenses and local activist group Rise Up Kingston held a rally last Saturday at Academy Green to gather support for Vazquez’s plight.
“The amount of outreach from our customers and the community has been amazing,” said Walters. “This is not just about Carlos, this is a human rights issue.”
County Executive Mike Hein on Wednesday issued a statement supporting Vazquez and promised to ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help with the case. “We are a proud nation of immigrants, and so I am deeply distressed by the flawed immigration policy that is being abused at the federal level,” stated Hein. “In this particular case, I have reached out to the Governor’s Office in an effort to secure a more positive outcome and I will continue to fight for real pathways to citizenship for hardworking individuals and their families.”