The three landscapers knocked on the wrong door.
Little did they know it would lead at least one of them to a jail cell before a long grind through the system toward a back door deportation from the country.
The compelling follow up story in this week’s Independent by T.E. McMorrow is about those three immigrants — Antonie Chin, 34, of Riverhead, Marco Saban, 36, of Southhampton, and Hector Velasquez, 24, of Riverhead — who thought they were at the door of the landscaper who’d hired them on Rysam Street in Sag Harbor on June 5.
No one answered.
So, they tried the door. It was unlocked. When they stepped inside, they learned they’d entered the wrong home, belonging to their boss’s next door neighbor. The neighbor held a barking German shepherd.
The three men fled.
The neighbor called 911. Sag Harbor Village cops searched the area and arrested the three immigrants for trespassing.
Velasquez, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant, initially gave cops a fake name because he knew under the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) zero tolerance policy he was facing deportation back to the poverty, squalor, and hopelessness of Guatemala.
Hector Velasquez snuck into this country to do exactly what he was looking to do on Rysam Street on June 5: an honest day’s work.
Velasquez came to Rysam Street to work. And when I see a guy from Guatemala, where 65 percent of the population lives in poverty, I see a kid growing up hungry, thinking there is nowhere to go in life but up.
Up often means El Norte.
North through scary, cartel-savaged Mexico, paying off duplicitous coyotes to show you how to ford the Rio Grande or navigate other illegal land border crossings into the great red, white, and blue mirage of America.
Not to steal, rape, or deal drugs, despite the shameless rhetoric of our white supremacist president who was raised by a Scottish immigrant mother, and who married two immigrants from communist bloc countries.
Hector Velasquez came to America to work.
In this case, to manicure the verdant summer lawns of the American citizens of the East End who rely on the skills, work ethic, and affordable rates of thousands of immigrants like Hector Velasquez. Work, so they can find a safe place to live. Work to eat until you are no longer hungry. Work to send money home. Work six days so that on the seventh, maybe you can rest and enjoy a cold beer as you watch bottle rockets burst in the starry skies above the proud front lawns and backyards these immigrants tend in preparation for the coming birthday of the United States of America.
Or what’s left of it.
For two weeks it didn’t look or sound much like any America I remember as we witnessed wailing immigrant children separated from their parents, imprisoned in cages in what can only be called concentration camps that the Federal government did not want the press or the public to see or to hear from in the Land of the Free.
Those vivid images and that disturbing eight-minute piece of audio released by Pro Publica made Donald Trump blink.
The Fake Tough Guy was shaken by polls indicating that more than two-thirds of the country opposed child separation. Panicked ranking Republicans urged him to issue an executive order ending the “policy” of separating children from parents.
This was an executive order that Trump and his West Wing and cabinet underlings falsely insisted for weeks was the “law” that only the Congress or the courts could fix.
They all lied.
After 2300 kids had been separated from their parents and scattered across the country, Trump folded like a beach bum’s sand chair and signed the executive order.
But the rich kid autocrat from Queens now had to prove to his MAGA base that he was still Tough Trump.
And so, as an alphabet soup of Federal agencies scramble to reunite kids with parents before the midterm elections, the Hector Velasquezes of the Trump zero tolerance immigration crackdown will not stand an ICE target’s chance in Hell.
Two weeks ago, I sat in the East Hampton Town Justice Court waiting for Velasquez to have a hearing on the trespassing charge. But because the U.S. Open was causing traffic jams, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office postponed delivery of Velasquez from the Riverhead lockup.
Instead, they brought him last Friday to the Sag Harbor courtroom of Judge Lisa Rana.
McMorrow’s Friday photo of a shackled Velasquez in prison jumpsuit with head bowed in defeat inside Judge Lisa Rana’s courtroom speaks more than a thousand words. It tells us of the 3394.8 miles of broken dreams ahead of him from that courthouse to the airport of Guatemala City where Velasquez will soon be sent. But when he finally appeared in front of Judge Rana for a hearing on the misdemeanor trespassing charge, the good judge saw that there was an ICE “detainer” on Velasquez.
Rana said that she could not proceed with Velasquez’s trespassing charge until he saw an immigration lawyer. That attorney will likely tell Velasquez that he is going to be deported, pointing to his ICE detainer where this box is checked: “A final order of removal against the alien.”
The lack of coterminous information shared among the Federal, State, and municipal courts and local, county, and Federal law enforcement agencies has created a mind-bending cluster-muck of overlapping jurisdictions.
Velasquez was arrested by Sag Harbor Village police, arraigned and transferred to the Riverhead Suffolk County lock-up where ICE, part of the Federal Department of Homeland Security, put a detainer on Velasquez.
But ICE is like a Chinese puzzle box.
ICE does not always reveal its involvement with a prisoner like Velazquez to his local court-appointed attorney, the local prosecutor’s office, or to the local judge until the local court hearing.
You would need a coyote and a snakehead to guide you through the judicial swamps, tunnels, and backroads to have a hearing on a simple trespass charge.
So now Velasquez awaits a pro forma Riverhead jailhouse interview with a court appointed immigration lawyer who will explain that he will be deported.
McMorrow learned on Monday from ICE spokesperson Rachel Yong Yow that Velasquez was already deported once, in July 2011. That means he is not eligible for immigration court, since he entered illegally again.
But when a new court date is set in Judge Rana’s Sag Harbor courtroom the Suffolk sheriffs will transport Velasquez for his second tour of “The System” that will take the tax-paid time of court guards, court clerks, prosecutors, a local court appointed lawyer, a bailiff, and a court reporter and the judge.
All this for a case that is moot since Velasquez is getting deported by the Feds.
This madness is not unique to the East End. It’s common across the fruited plain. And this chaos is now compounded by Health and Human Services and ICE trying to mix and match scattered children — some already in foster care, some in city and county facilities, and many too young to ID their own relatives — with parents. Many of the separated parents are now being detained in different states than their traumatized kids, in private lockups where ICE has long-term leases on beds.
Some parents have already been deported to countries with even more impenetrable and corrupt bureaucracies than ours. Mothers and fathers thousands of miles away fretting over short-circuiting kids lost somewhere in the Rubik’s Cube of the American judicial system.
Against this backdrop Hector Velasquez awaits deportation and a conclusion to his misdemeanor trespass charge. And you, the taxpayer, are still paying for the man hours of every civil servant it takes to process this zero tolerance policy on this single non-violent deportee. Now, this 24-year-old guy who came to America to work and make a better life for himself is back in a lockup, surrounded by violent MS-13 gang members.
This is how your taxes are spent to deport a single hardworking young guy who knocked on the wrong door while looking to mow a Sag Harbor lawn.
The system isn’t broken.
It’s a perfectly functioning merry-go-round.
Clearly, we need hundreds more than the fewer than 400 current immigration judges to ease the crazy backlog of some 700,000 pending immigration cases, a problem exacerbated by this draconian zero tolerance policy initiated in April and still in effect for a childless guy like Hector Velasquez.
With more immigration judges, any federal case could simply supersede any misdemeanor charge in a district court and a defendant like Velasquez could be given due process in a one-stop-shop Immigration Court.
Even far right U.S. Senators like Ted Cruz are saying more immigration judges are clearly the answer.
Instead on Sunday, from a Virginia golf course, President Donald “Only I Can Fix It” Trump’s solution was not more judges but an end to due process constitutionally guaranteed by the Fifth and 14th Amendments. Trump wants to deport anyone accused by a border patrol agent or ICE agent of entering the country illegally.
Let cops also be judge and jury.
Now we know what Trump learned behind closed doors at that North Korean summit.
Since blinking on child separation President Trump has doubled down on zero tolerance for illegal immigration. “They don’t talk about the death and destruction caused by people who shouldn’t be here,” Trump said. “People that will continuously get into trouble and do bad things.”
It is necessary to match some facts against Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric.
A recent Associated Press story tells us that a February 2018 study by the Cato Institute citing 2015 crime statistics from Texas found immigrants in the country illegally were 25 percent less likely to be convicted of homicide than native-born Americans. Legal immigrants were 87 percent less likely.
That same study showed that immigrants in the country illegally were also 11.5 percent less likely than native-born Americans to be convicted of sexual assault and 79 percent less likely to be convicted of larceny.
All that said, when an undocumented immigrant commits a violent or sexually abusive crime, engages in malevolent gang activity, or becomes a recidivist drunk driver, I am all for a speedy deportation.
That will take more immigration judges.
But the cost alone of the current crazy process to deport a non-violent young working guy like Hector Velasquez who came to the East End chasing the American Dream in a country enjoying full employment is enough to call for an end to this zero-tolerance crackdown.
But although Trump blinked on separating kids from parents, Hector Velasquez will still be in confinement on July Fourth as we celebrate America’s 242nd birthday. He will ride the merry-go-round of the American judicial system for another few weeks before entering a guilty plea to trespassing in Judge Rana’s courtroom with a “time served” sentence before he is deported.
For knocking on the wrong door.