Metairie immigration arrest leaves Jefferson Parish woman ‘to pray alone’ – The Times-Picayune – 4/8/17

The Times Picayune

“Metairie immigration arrest leaves Jefferson Parish woman ‘to pray alone'”

April 8, 2017

by Wilborn P. Nobles III

Before Metairie resident Heriberto Hernandez Perez ended his night March 6 with a family dinner and prayer before bedtime, the father of three spent his day roofing and playing baseball with his youngest child Eric after he picked him up from J.D. Meisler Middle School.

Martha Perez said her husband would always bring 12-year-old Eric to school at 7 a.m., but she said Heriberto Perez woke up early the next morning, March 7, to drive his son to school. The father, 44, and his son were five blocks away from the school when authorities suddenly stopped their vehicle at the intersection of Marion Street and Neyrey Drive around 6 a.m.

She said a car pulled Perez over, and then one car stopped behind them while another stopped in front of them.

“They surrounded the car and they took his cellphone, and then my husband was arrested and they put him into one of their vans. Meanwhile my son was left alone in our family car,” she said.

Trump’s crackdown has local law enforcement facing a slew of challenges to navigate federal immigration law and stay within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Perez, an undocumented immigrant, and dropped his son off at the family’s home. ICE left the boy at the edge of the driveway, and didn’t even knock on the door to notify Martha Perez, she said. A “really scared” Eric told his mother his dad had been arrested, she recalled Friday in the office of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.

“He said ‘Mommy, mommy, they took my daddy,’ and we were totally shocked by this news,” she said.

Martha Perez described her husband as the kind of man who goes to work, goes to church and comes home to be with his family. Members of Casa Del Alfarero Ministries in Metairie, she said she and Perez have been together for 25 years. She said it’s hard, with him detained, to afford the phone calls to her husband, who is being held at ICE’s LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena.

Her husband, a Mexican native, has been in the New Orleans since 1999, and she said “only God knows” why they decided to stay here and not visit other states. She joined him here in 2000, with Heriberto Perez working in roofing while she provides house cleaning services.

She said her husband is “always someone who’s trying to help others,” and that he doesn’t have a criminal record. Orleans and Jefferson parishes show no criminal record for Heriberto Perez. She’s now searching for answers behind her husband’s arrest.

“We’re not here to hurt anybody,” she said, “we’re not criminals.”

While the full brunt of Trump’s immigration policies remains to be seen, some of the initial effects are beginning to be felt.

“Every night, our religion expects us to pray, so every night we pray together as a family, but now I’ve been left to pray alone,” she said as she wiped away tears.

ICE agents are advised to “generally” avoid performing arrests, interviews, searches or surveillance of an individual at locations like schools or churches, according to the ICE Sensitive Locations Policy. Agents are told to only engage in these actions when it’s approved by a supervisor.

They may also act in these locations without supervisor approval when there are circumstances related to national security, terrorism, public safety, or when there is an “imminent risk” of destruction of evidence in an ongoing criminal case.

The policy is meant to enhance the “public understanding and trust” of ICE while also ensuring people can engage in activities at “sensitive locations” like schools without fear or hesitation.

Thomas Byrd, a spokesman for ICE’s New Orleans field office, said Saturday (April 8) that “it does not mean we cannot arrest somebody” at those locations. He calls it the guidance that they have to follow according to leadership in Washington, D.C.

“If he was physically on the school property, like the gymnasium, then that’s consideration a sensitive location, but if he was a block away from a school, that could be near but not a sensitive location.”

LaSalle and the Pine Prairie detention center in Evangeline Parish are the two immigration detention centers in Louisiana. Chloe Sigal, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers, said “the conditions are horrible” as there have been deaths due to the lack of medical treatment. Sigal and Perez expressed concern for her husband because he has “serious chronic conditions.”

“They’re holding him in this detention center and he has these two conditions — colitis and diabetes — and his life depends on insulin. Being stuck inside those four walls, being separated from his family [and] thinking he might be deported, all these things are huge stressors,” Perez said.

Perez and her husband talk every other night by phone. When they spoke Wednesday, she said, he told her authorities have been unable to bring his blood sugar down. She’s also beginning to worry about agents coming by the family’s home.

“I feel like I’m not even safe at my own house, they could come and knock on the door anytime and that’s the feeling we’re having right now,” she said.

Jose Luis Gomez Castor entered a national spotlight when ICE agents arrested him in 2011

Although Perez said they have not mentioned this incident to officials at Eric’s school, her son did reflect about the situation with his math teacher. Eric recalled how the teacher cried as she apologized to Eric. He lamented not being able to “feel accompanied” by his father, who played baseball with him.

“I’m really upset that they took him from me and I can’t go to church with him,” Eric Perez said.

Heriberto Perez’s attorney, Sima Atri, said Perez does not fit the category of “criminal aliens” that are under Homeland Security’s deportation priority. Sigal stressed Perez is potentially eligible for two different forms of immigration status. However, the family worries Perez “will not survive in detention” to wait out the legal process.

An executive order by President Donald Trump on Jan. 25 expanded the federal government’s scope of deportation priorities. It also ordered ICE to increase personnel numbers for removal efforts. After that order, Trump released a budget proposal in March that called for an additional $1.5 billion to expand detention, transportation and deportation efforts.

In March, Congreso organizer Fernando Lopez said ICE used to only pick up people when they were convicted of a crime, “but now they’re just getting people” if the person committed an action that could be considered chargeable, such as being in the country without documentation.

Martha Perez said Trump is being “really unjust with the Latino community,” and that they’re people who want to contribute. She added “a lot of immigrants” lent their labor to rebuild in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and the Louisiana Flood of 2016.

“We feel like we’ve sacrificed for this city, we’ve put our work in and now it feels like we’re coming under attack,” she said. “We’re people who come here to look for a better future, and they’re making us—all of us—out to be these criminals who are out to harm people. That’s simply not true, we’re here for a better future.”