A Nighttime Respite in the Park Leads to Deportation
The arrest of a young restaurant cook for misdemeanor trespassing in a Greensboro park and his subsequent detention by federal immigration authorities raises fresh questions about the role of local law enforcement in deportations.
While much of the political rhetoric from Washington has focused on deporting convicted felons and other serious criminals, US Rep. David Price, who represents North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, noted that the number of non-criminals deported by US Immigration & Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has exploded by 400 percent since 2002 while criminal deportations have increased by a more modest 60 percent over the same time period. As chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, Price opened a hearing in April by declaring, “ICE should have no higher priority than deporting those who have proved their intent and ability to do harm and have been convicted of serious crimes.” Salvador Collazo recalled that he and his friend, Nestor, worked a double shift together from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. in their restaurant’s kitchen on May 3, a Sunday. On the drive home they decided to stop at Lindley Park to walk, stretch and talk. The 30-year-old Collazo, who spoke through a translator, agreed to describe the circumstances of the arrest on condition that Nestor’s full name, which is a matter of public record, not be used. The request was made to honor the wishes of Nestor’s aunt who lives in Greensboro. Collazo gave his friend’s age as 28, but ICE lists him as being 21. Collazo said he spotted another car near the front of the parking lot and drove to the back on the fateful night. The other car left immediately. The two men were sitting in Collazo’s car when, within two minutes of their arrival, a police officer’s flashlight pierced the darkness through the window. Collazo recalled that Officer WJ Russo asked for identification; Collazo handed over his North Carolina-issued driver’s license and Nestor produced his Mexican voter identification card. Both were charged with second-degree trespassing. “They just gave me a ticket and they asked him to get out of the car, and they arrested him and put him in the car,” Collazo said. “And they gave me his house keys.” Collazo suggested that the police were selectively enforcing a Greensboro ordinance, which makes it unlawful to use the public parks from dusk to dawn for anything but programmed activities. He said he frequently drives past the park after work and sees three or four vehicles in the parking lot at a time. Marty Rosenbluth, a lawyer in Durham who is handling Nestor’s case, agreed. “If it was me in the park with my white skin and perfect English,” Rosenbluth said, “they would say, ‘Be more careful,’ and not, ‘You’re coming with us.’” He added, “If the police department is engaging in racial profiling, that’s very concerning. Local law enforcement should not be involved in routine immigration enforcement. If someone is suspected of being involved in a serious felony, then that’s when local law enforcement should make an arrest.
To pick up someone because they look Latino and because you want to make sure they’re a legal resident is not what local law enforcement should be doing.” Lt. Hope Newkirk, a spokeswoman for the department, defended the arrest. “If the person did not have a valid ID, then the officer had an obligation to arrest him,” she said. “Say I’m stopped and I use my brother or sister’s name. We may issue a citation to the wrong person and they don’t know they’re supposed to be in court and a warrant is issued for their arrest. That has happened before.” She added that Nestor’s Mexican voter ID “was not a valid form of identification, so he was taken before a magistrate to ensure that he was the correct person.” The arrest puts Chief Tim Bellamy in an awkward position with immigrant advocates. It also underscores the enforcement discretion granted to police officers and the level of technicality in what types of documentation officers require from misdemeanor offenders. Seeking clarity on those questions, the Rev. Mark Sills asked Bellamy at an April 1 forum held at Iglesia Cristiana International in Greensboro: “If for some reason, one of your deputies stopped me — maybe I have a burned-out light bulb on my car and you checked my identification and found that my license was expired — what could I expect?” “You wouldn’t be taken to jail,” Bellamy responded. “You’d probably be given a citation telling you to go to court on a certain day. What normally happens in Guilford County is you get your license renewed or whatever, take it care of before that court date, you still have to go to court and show the judge or whoever it is that you’ve had that situation taken care of. And lately, in my experience, to move things through the courts they’ve been dismissing those kinds of things.” The arrest was the first decisive moment in the chain of events that led to Nestor being handed over to ICE and taken to Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, where he awaits removal to Mexico. The second was a decision by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office to submit the young man’s fingerprints to ICE for a possible match in the federal agency’s extensive database. Sheriff BJ Barnes makes no apology for the practice, even though it goes beyond therequirements of a state law that mandates that detention facilitiescheck the immigration status of convicted felons and those charged withdriving while intoxicated. In an explanation of factorsconsidered for bond for Nestor, Magistrate JB Antonelli wrote, “No ideawho defendant is. Tried to verify using many methods but defendantfails to provide proof.” Four days after the arrest, theGuilford County Jail in Greensboro received a detainer from immigrationenforcement agent Erin North in Charlotte requiring the local agency tohold Nestor for up to 48 hours to give ICE time to assume custody. OnMay 11, court records show, Nestor was found guilty of second-degreetrespassing, and sentenced to time served. The next day ICEpicked him up at the jail and spirited him off to Georgia. Nestor’sarrest stunned his friend and coworker, Salvador Collazo, who said hehad not realized that their presence in the park after dusk wasillegal. (A metal sign displaying park regulations in small type iseasy to miss in the daylight hours; in the dark it’s virtuallyinvisible.) “It seems like what I would have expected is thatthey told us to leave because the park was closed,” he said, “or togive me a ticket because I was the one driving. Or at the very least,give us both tickets with the same court date. “I understand that if hewas drinking or bothering anyone then the police would have a reason totake him in,” Collazo continued. “We aren’t in our country and I knowwe have to respect the laws. If he was drinking or using drugs in thepark, they should have taken him in. I would understand that.” Thetiming of the arrest makes Collazo wonder if its purpose wasimmigration enforcement all along. “I think when they saw usthey had a plan in mind,” he said, “because the next day when we wentto pay the bond, they wouldn’t take it.” A Conditions of Release formsigned by Magistrate Antonelli on the night of the arrest authorizesNestor’s release upon execution of a written promise to appear “w/ ID”and sets no bond amount,” but a notation made by a court official onMay 11 modifies the condition to “$400 cash — strike ID requirement.” Rosenbluthsaid the magistrate who refused to allow Collazo to post bond mighthave erred technically, but the point is largely moot because of thefederal detainer. “The problem with bond is it really is ano-win proposition,” he said. “If there is a detainer, and you postedbond, then the detainer kicks in and ICE takes you into custody. If youdon’t post bond, then you stay in jail until you complete your sentenceor the charges are dismissed, and then you go into ICE custody. Eitherway, you don’t get out of jail.” The lawyer acknowledged there isn’tmuch he can do to help his client. At most, he may be able to get himout temporarily on federal bond so he can get his affairs in order andbuy a bus ticket back to Mexico. “I’m working on that,” Rosenbluth said.