Luis Martinez, head of the New Paltz construction company Lalo Group, was detained by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on January 16, and has been confined in a Goshen ICE facility since that date. Family members, and Martinez himself, were not immediately given the reason for his apprehension, but now know it relates to his deportation in 1997. Martinez has applied for a U visa — granted to victims of certain crimes who cooperate with police — but the backlog for those approvals has climbed since 2016.
Luis Martinez came to the United States with his mother from Mexico after the death of his father when he was three years old. He arrived in the U.S. at eight and eventually came to New Paltz, where he attended high school. His mother received amnesty and subsequently citizenship, but as Martinez was not born stateside, he was not granted that status for himself. That makes him a rare bird in his family; in addition to his mother, his children and his brother Sergio Raymundo are also citizens.
Because he had traveled back and forth over the border with his mother numerous times, when Martinez obtained a driver’s license at the age of 18, he decided to cross the border back into the United States on his own. That’s when he learned that his mother’s status as a citizen no longer protected him; he was detained and deported. ICE community relations officer Sonia Thomas, in an e-mail to New Paltz Town Board member Daniel Torres, asserted that Martinez has been deported twice, not once. According to his wife, Martinez was able to reenter the U.S. legally under a work visa. He started his construction company in 2002, building houses until he got a contract for a hotel in Poughkeepsie. Jobs in New York City allowed him to grow the business, which is now called Lalo Group.
That the business has grown became clear in 2016, when Martinez acquired the “pit” property behind New Paltz Village Hall for $1.25 million and pitched an $80 million hotel and condominium complex for the 2.4-acre parcel. More than one iteration of that idea has emerged, any of which would require a zoning change to allow buildings of up to six and eight stories; Martinez has also formally expressed interest in purchasing the village-owned parking lot off Plattekill Avenue, which is adjacent to the pit.
More recently, Martinez financed La Charla, a Mexican restaurant run by his wife and owned by his mother, as a way to ensure lasting prosperity for his family. He also became an investing partner in Zero Place, even as his company was tapped as general contractor. The Zero Place proposal is for a mixed-use building to be constructed on the empty lot at the corner of Mulberry and North Chestnut streets. It would include 46 apartments over a floor of retail space; the entire structure is intended to be net-zero in regard to energy usage, hence the name. According to developer David Shepler, Martinez signed on both to do more local projects and to learn about high-energy-efficiency construction, which he hopes to apply to his pit project.
Martinez only became aware of his eligibility for a U visa three years ago as well, when he was exploring options to legally extend his stay, specifically seeking asylum. He witnessed the murder of his brother Jesus in Newburgh in 1998 and cooperated with authorities. Part of the application process for this non-immigrant visa is a police certification of helpfulness by the applicant. Spouses of eligible crime victims may also qualify.
His helpfulness in the murder case seems to be reflected in how he conducts himself in the community. Martinez, either personally or through his company, has made significant donations to St. Joseph’s church (and facilitated a Spanish-language mass there), Phillies Bridge Farm Project, the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce and numerous youth athletic teams. His wife said he summarizes his emphasis on community as, “I live here, I give here.” He is also in the planning stages of developing a scholarship for high school students in similar situations to his own; the money would be given in the name of Jesus Martinez.
The morning of January 16, while Tina was getting their three children onto their school buses, Luis Martinez headed to the Lalo Group offices on North Front Street. According to the account he since shared with his wife, a car was pulled in behind his as he arrived, and those in it approached and asked him to identify himself. Martinez countered by inquiring as to their motivation, and at some point the individuals produced a picture of Martinez and told him to get in their car. Martinez asked to see a warrant and for the right to contact an attorney, and — according to what was recounted to his wife over the phone — was advised he would “get in the car one way or the other.”
Fearing violence, Martinez complied; the agents also allegedly promised to show him the warrant once he did. However, no such document was produced, and it’s possible none existed. The documents used by ICE agents are sometimes referred to as warrants, but are generated internally without approval by any judge. Also called a civil detainer, this document is seen as extrajudicial by critics of the organization who seek to have the entire department abolished. Martinez asserted he was protected by his pending U visa, but the agents found no record of that application in their system.
It’s not immediately clear how his name may have come to the attention of ICE agents, and information provided through that office is extremely limited; a spokesperson who confirmed his detention cited privacy concerns for saying nothing more. Martinez was arrested four years ago for driving while intoxicated, but that matter was resolved. Councilman Torres believes it is unlikely something as old as that — or the earlier deportation — would have triggered the detention. Initially, Martinez wanted to keep his situation private, but friends and colleagues including Alex Baer and Torres convinced him that public discourse is more likely to help, rather than hinder, his efforts.
“Unfortunately, yet again we are seeing an example of our broken immigration system,” said Torres, who noted that this detention “serves no one” and sidelines a community member who “employs dozens” at two businesses.
Shepler said that work on Zero Place has not yet been impacted by the situation, but that he and the other partners are “watching closely” and “saddened” by the circumstances. “He contributes all over the place,” Shepler said, noting that Martinez “is deep in [New Paltz]” and “integral” to both the project and the community.
As of Thursday, no court date for Martinez was known.