Immigration advocates protested Thursday over the impending deportation to Honduras of a North Brunswick man who was turned over to federal authorities by local police after they stopped him for a routine traffic violation.
Melvin Herrera was arrested in November by police in Plainfield, who say they ran Herrera’s name through the National Crime Information Center database and found he had an outstanding deportation warrant dating from 2005. Police handed him over to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and he was taken to the ICE detention facility in Elizabeth before the end of the day.
His deportation, which could take place on Tuesday, would leave his wife and children — two of whom have autism — with no means of support, other than public relief agencies.
“Say it loud, say it clear. Immigrants are welcome here,” immigrant advocates chanted as they gathered in Highland Park to call for ICE to look beyond the letter of the law and use its discretion to keep the 50-year-old breadwinner with his family.
In a statement, ICE spokesperson Emilio Dabul said Herrera “entered the U.S. illegally at an unknown date and location, and was later encountered and arrested by Border Patrol May 29, 2005. He was issued a notice to appear in immigration court and failed to do so. He was ordered removed in absentia by an immigration judge Oct. 3, 2005.”
Fault lines over immigration in NJ
Herrera’s potential deportation is playing out as a sharp debates rages in New Jersey over immigration, with officials in many communities actively balking at the policies of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy that are welcoming to otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants and at odds with the tough stance taken by President Donald Trump.
The details of Herrera’s story hew closely to one of those fault lines — the Immigrant Trust Directive issues by Murphy’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, which limits the circumstances in which local police and other authorities can cooperate with ICE agents.
“The directive makes it clear that notifying ICE can only occur in two cases,” said Ellen Whitt with the group Deportation and Immigration Response Equipo. “When someone is suspected or has committed a very serious crime; the other is when the person has a final order of removal from ICE that has been signed by a judge and lodged with the county jail or the state prison.”
Plainfield Police Capt. David Guarino said there was no violation of the Immigrant Trust Directive. A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not comment on the matter, saying it “may become the subject of an internal affairs complaint and investigation.”
But beyond the debate lies a family that, however it arrived at the juncture, now faces being torn apart. Herrera’s wife said she hoped federal authorities could take stock of the human element in the equation.
“These past three months have been very difficult for my children, for me and for Melvin, being home while he is in custody,” Geyde Zapata said, through a translator. “I’m asking ICE to look into its heart and let Melvin return to us.”
Her supporters, meanwhile, lashed out at federal authorities saying that under President Trump, they are targeting immigrants.
“We are not going to allow that he’s going to keep criminalizing our communities, keep putting our communities of color in detention and in deportation procedures,” said Jorge Torres of the group ICE Free New Jersey.
Herrera’s family is hoping their lawyer can work out a deal with ICE before Tuesday.