An undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in April was released from custody last Monday after being detained for nearly three months.
Enrique Lopez Perez, 42, was standing on a Mount Kisco street outside a friend’s house on the morning of Apr. 14 when ICE agents approached him and another man waiting to be picked up by their employer, said immigration attorney Karin Anderson Ponzer, director of Neighbors Link Community Law Practice, who is representing Perez.
Anderson Ponzer said that the ICE agents told the two men they were looking for other parties and had nothing to fear. After tge agents, checked the house, they returned to fingerprint Perez and his friend before taking them into custody.
“My client had no previous interaction with the immigration court, he hadn’t been in front of an immigration judge, nothing,” she said. “So he had no idea what had happened. He wasn’t expecting it.”
Perez, who has lived in Mount Kisco with extended family members since arriving in the United States in 2011, was detained in the Orange County Jail, languishing for six weeks before receiving a court notice, Anderson Ponzer said. Unlike his friend, who had a previous history with the immigration court, Perez was neither charged with a crime nor had any criminal record in the United States or Guatemala.
She said Perez, a construction worker and landscaper, is one of thousands of people who flee their native country fearing for their lives but who aren’t aware of the legal channels that are available. Neighbors Link learned of his situation because one of its clients reached out to its staff, which was able to advocate on his behalf. Furthermore, a Good Samaritan had videotaped the interaction Perez had with ICE agents.
“He was just safe in the United States, functioning in the United States until this happened,” Anderson Ponzer said. “What’s important to know is that as soon as he got access to an attorney, we reviewed his case and saw that he had a possible claim and the judge agreed that it might be viable, so that’s why he was released.”
Anderson Ponzer said she understands that many American citizens are concerned with immigration laws being enforced. However, many undocumented immigrants haven’t had access to an attorney or gone through the immigration court process, which would help determine if they have a credible claim. She said no one is terminally illegal until they’ve had their court date.
“My client is definitely willing to be subject to the court,” Anderson Ponzer said. “He’s filed papers, he’s represented by me. The problem here is that the detention went on so long, a big part of the reason why so many people are in this limbo state.”
Another obstacle for individuals taken into custody is that actions by ICE have become so broad and expansive that there is a rapidly increasing backlog of cases, she said.
Anderson Ponzer said considering he was detained in jail Perez is doing well. Perez is due to appear in immigration court on Aug. 2, Anderson Ponzer said.
“I think he’s feeling better now because he knows there’s a path forward,” she said.