Things That Matter

A Man Was Cutting Down A Tree When Police Discovered He Didn’t Have A License, So They Turned Him Into ICE

Regardless of who wins the 2020 elections and whether Donald Trump will be impeached before then or not, the past few years will be remembered by many as a traumatic period in which thousands of immigrants, many of them undocumented but some just wary of the color of their skin, lived in fear of migration authorities. There have been multiple cases of family separations and trauma that 

Jose Villalta was helping a pariente cut down a tree. His sin: not having a license to do so.

Credit: Jose Villalba / Facebook

The 31-year-old Maryland resident and citizen of El Salvador was doing something that is totally right: he was helping out a family member cut down a dead tree in his property last August 7. However, he was approached by police when he was helping because the law establishes that you need a license to do this. José Ricardo Villalta Canales (his full name) violated a state law by not having the document, a violation that is punishable with a $500 fine. However, police officers from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources went beyond a mere fine… 

This is when things went from bad to worse for Villalta, as the officers turned him over to immigration authorities.

Credit: WJLA

According to The Washington Post, the officers took five minutes to fine him for $320, “But they detained him for more than two hours after making a routine check of a national database to see if he was the subject of any outstanding state, federal or local warrants”. They went above and beyond the standard procedure, most likely motivated by Villalta’s ethnic background. It is important to mention that Villalta had no previous criminal record. At all. But a search in the database revealed that ICE has filed an administrative warrant for deportation. 

So Villalta is now suing the police officers for handing him over to ICE.

Credit: Washington Post

Villalta is now suing the authorities for what he and his lawyers claim was a wrongful arrest. He is being supported by attorneys with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Because Maryland authorities are only meant to act on judicial or criminal warrants, and not administrative warrants, the officers were wrongful in detaining Villalta until the ICE authorities arrived. As The Washington Post reports, Villalta has since then been held in detention: “He was consequently arrested and has remained in ICE detention in Frederick County for more than three months.”

According to his defense, the case is far from ambiguous. Azadeh Erfani, an associate counsel at he Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs said unequivocally: “His rights were very much violated”. Also, cases like Villalta’s set a precedent for any law enforcement agency to call on ICE when they have a suspicion. And well, this suspicion is of course based on physical appearance and ethnicity… there really isn’t another way around it is there?

He is now suffering from depression. 

Villalta has been in the United States since he was 17-years-old, when he crossed the border by foot. His whole adult life has been spent in the United States, where he has a network of support. In a recent press conference, his aunt Mirna Canales informed that Jose is suffering from depression while on ICE detention, with the prospect of deportation to a country that he would barely recognize today looming over his future. In the United States he has been working in roofing in Rockville, and he has supported his partner’s children and several nieces and nephews. He is a hard working immigrant. 

Social media is finding clear racial implications in this case.

There is no way this would have happened if Jose Villalta was, say, a British man who had overstayed his visa. Because he is Brown, he was immediately found suspicious of being an undocumented migrant. Cases like these exacerbate the already stressful situation experienced by millions in the United States and most widely the world over. 

And some went even further and compared today’s environment to some of the darkest episodes in human history, while some MAGA dudes are bringing out their nastiness.

While some social media users are comparing this type of inter-agency cooperation to the methods used by the Gestapo during the Nazi regime, others have obviously brought out their nastiness. Come on, man, at least show some understanding of law before you bring out your venom. Cases like this bring out the best and the worst in people, and while some are sacando a relucir el cobre, supporters have rocked signs with legends such as “IMMIGRANT RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS” and “HE IS NOT A CRIMINAL”. 

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