Supporters of a father of three from North Brunswick who was grabbed by federal authorities on a 15-year-old immigration warrant after a routine traffic violation fear that he has been deported back to his native Honduras.
Melvin Herrera’s wife said her husband called early Wednesday and said he was being moved from the federal Elizabeth Detention Center to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Louisiana.
“He called me at 7 this morning and told me if I didn’t hear from him by 10 that he was on his way to Honduras. Right now, I still don’t know,” said Geyde Zapata in Spanish, noting during the late morning interview that he still hadn’t called back, leaving her to assume that he was “on his way to Honduras.”
An ICE spokesman declined to comment on Herrera’s status Wednesday.
Herrera was arrested in November by police in Plainfield during a routine traffic stop when they ran his name through the National Crime Information Center database and found he had an outstanding deportation warrant dating from 2005. Police handed him to over to ICE and he’s been in the agency’s custody ever since.
Herrera’s case has drawn attention of opponents of President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, who say that the 50-year-old is a victim of ICE overreach, driven by the president’s political agenda. Protests have been staged in the wake of his detention, including a prayer service and news conference Wednesday in Highland Park.
In a statement issued last month, 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.”
Herrera’s attorney, Hamdan Qudah, says he filed a stay of deportation motion but ICE rejected it. The attorney says the agency’s decision is final, and cannot be appealed.
Qudah does not dispute that his client had entered the country illegally back in 2005, but believes ICE should be flexible in the case of someone like Herrera who has built a life here.
“We have to acknowledge that there are certain agencies that operate under the authorization of the law and they are out there to do their job,” he said. “However, the law gave them certain discretion to exercise in favor of these individuals that they pursue for deportation when they determine that there is certain circumstances, compelling circumstances, that warrant a favorable exercise of discretion.”
He noted that deporting Herrera leaves his wife and children, including two with autism, with no means of support, other than public relief agencies.
“This individual has been in the United States for a very long time,” Qudah said. “He has two U.S. citizen children who are diagnosed with autism … and he’s the only provider for this family. He does not have any criminal record, whatsoever.”
“If this situation is not compelling enough for ICE, then what is?” he asked.
Herrera’s son, William, knows little about ICE guidelines or its options for discretion. His feelings on the situation are pretty straightforward.
“I miss him a lot,” he said in English.