Protestors quickly organized a demonstration after Martinez was told that a public display of support may be his only hope of delaying deportation. Video by Terence P. Ward.
Word came Saturday that New Paltz resident Luis Martinez had been put on a deportation list days earlier, and that more public action might be all that stands between him and a plane trip to Mexico. Message received: roughly 150 friends and neighbors showed up yesterday afternoon at the Orange County Correctional Facility to make their voices heard. If nothing else, it was clear that those locked inside heard, as well as the sheriff’s deputies on duty at the time. Elected officials at state and local levels were also on hand.
Martinez, owner of construction company Lalo Group, was picked up by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Jan. 16. Born in Mexico, he came to the United States as a child with his mother, who was seeking asylum. She obtained amnesty during the Reagan administration, and subsequently became a citizen, but her son had to find his own way to secure legal status in a country where all his siblings, as well as his children, were also citizens. Helping to solve the murder of his brother made him eligible for a visa, but that process was not yet complete when ICE agents came to call.
While Martinez has resources and was able to hire an attorney, much of what happens under the auspices of ICE is outside of the traditional legal system. Judge-issued warrants are not necessary for arrests, and information about specific cases is not easy to obtain. Martinez was advised by an ICE agent on March 23 that he’d been placed on a list of deportation four days earlier, a fact that had not been immediately shared with his attorney.
A show of support
It was sunny as protestors began arriving at the county lockup in Goshen Sunday afternoon for an event organized in less than a day. Armed with a variety of signs and chants, there were more than 80 present by the time four deputies responded. The officers were polite, professional, and firm: it was neither legal nor appropriate to gather at this location without prior authorization, they advised, and to remain was to risk arrest. However, a space had been set up near the entrance of the property where the protest could continue. Protestors eyed the front door of the jail, and the adjacent grassy spot which would likely have room for all of them, but that’s not what was intended. By “entrance,” deputies were referring to the turn-off from the nearest public road, about half-mile away. Protestors could walk, or shuttle themselves in their own vehicles, but there wasn’t room to park cars.
Village trustee Don Kerr immediately took out a video camera and began recording the exchange. Protestors, including political candidates Eve Walter and Kevin Kelly, continued to speak with deputies, trying to negotiate a closer location, but the officers were implacable. By the time participants began moving toward the designated protest area, their numbers had swelled to more like 150, and the deputies to a dozen or more, including some on foot and others in vehicles. What resulted was a protest march, comprised of scores of people, from babes in arms to the elderly, representing a variety of races and ethnic backgrounds, along with a number of dogs. They chanted refrains such as, “release Luis,” and brandished signs ranging from ones proclaiming ICE itself as racist to a darkly humorous one: “If we leave, we’re taking the tacos with us.” Surrounded by deputies they slowly made their way along the prison road, but when they saw where cones had been set up to close one lane, they balked.
“Do you feel safe standing there?” ask Leo Gomez, a brother of Martinez. The negative response from the crowd led to negotiating a new alternative, and the protestors were then restricted to a narrow median in the entrance road, just a few feet wide. It was good enough to continue the chants for a time, but by 4 p.m. there was a sense that it was time to go. However, the walk back to the cars was the second time the protestors could be seen and heard by the men imprisoned inside, and this time they were clearly reacting. Yelling and banging on the windows could be heard, and even a chant which might have been the “release Luis” refrain. That return trip took until 4:45 p.m., and jail officials had had enough: speaking with organizers, they advised that the protestors’ presence was now posing a danger to deputies and prisoners alike by causing “agitation” among the inmates, and that arrests would begin shortly if the group did not disperse. Leaders encouraged just that, but promised to continue to organize and to negotiate a better protest area for future actions at the jail itself.
Housing ICE detainees in a jail that would otherwise be under-capacity has provided an $8-million boost to the Orange County annual budget since 2016. According to the Times Herald-Record, it is the only detainee holding site between Albany and New Jersey. State assembly members who toured the facility last November were critical of conditions, and spoke about passing laws to protect detainee rights, such as mandating legal representation.
State senator Jen Metzger was also present, and said she’d spoken with representative of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer earlier in the day. “I expressed the urgency, and that we have no clear information about where we are in the process [of deportation],” she said. “I told them [Martinez] is a model community member, a huge employer — 120 families depend on him and are affected by this — and gives back to the community. I see all the kids here, who are probably in school with his citizen children, and it brings home how terrible this is.”
Ronnie Yastion, one of the organizers of the protest, spoke about the presence of children. She said that her eldest son, Jonah, is a classmate of Martinez’s son Luis. Many of their classmates were present to support their friend and his family, and have been deeply affected by these events, she explained.
Family friend Alex Baer said that the protest was organized in short order because Martinez himself had been told that more public outcry was probably his last hope. Baer railed against how the agency is designed to operate in the shadows: “there’s no warrants, no protocols, no Miranda warning, no phone call, no right to see a judge. There’s no real American justice.”
As efforts to return Martinez to his family continue, one question raised on the sign carried by resident Stana Weisburd may resonate: “What about all those without a town behind them?”