September 1, 2016
By Gabriel McMorland
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took Martín Esquivel Hernandez from his Pittsburgh home in a 6 AM raid on May 2nd, the morning after he and his children participated in the May Day march for immigrant and workers’ rights. Martín is currently held in a for-profit prison in Ohio under threat of deportation.
A campaign to stop Martín’s deportation is growing, led by a coalition including Martín’s family and friends, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), the Thomas Merton Center, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Casa San Jose, and others. Similar campaigns have already moved officials in other parts of the country to exercise prosecutorial discretion and drop deportation cases against community members. The campaign website and petition is here.
Martín Esquivel Hernandez is a thirty-five-year-old father of three who volunteers at his children’s elementary school in Lawrenceville. Along with his wife and mother, he attends St. Catherine’s of Siena in Beechview and also East Liberty Presbyterian Church. Martín is also a leader in Pittsburgh’s growing Latino community.
The campaign focuses on two specific government officials with the power to drop Martín’s case and reunite the family, US Attorney David Hickton and ICE Field Office Director Thomas Decker. Hickton’s office is charging Martín with “illegal re-entry after deportation,” a felony allowing the US government to impose federal prison time if they arrest someone who has previously been deported. If Hickton’s office succeeds in their effort to brand Martín a felon for crossing the border, it is far more likely that ICE will decide to deport him.
Both David Hickton and Thomas Decker can choose to drop the federal prosecution and subsequent deportation proceedings. In 2014, a community campaign moved the Department of Justice to drop their charge of “illegal reentry” against an El Salvadoran immigrant in Oregon. ICE’s own policies allow for prosecutorial discretion and specify that ICE should focus on threats to national security and public safety instead of people with strong ties and contributions to the community. The Esquivel family can stay together if David Hickton drops the “illegal re-entry” charge and Thomas Decker exercises his prosecutorial discretion to stop the deportation proceedings.
Our elected officials also have a choice to make. Local, state, and national politicians can all support the Esquivel family by signing on to a letter addressed to US Attorney Hickton. As this article was going to print, Pittsburgh City Council members Natalia Rudiak and Dan Gilman have already signed the letter of support and Martin’s supporters are continuing to contact officials at all levels of government. Elected officials send a clear message when they sign on to the letter or refuse to do so. To find out what your own elected officials decided, contact the Thomas Merton Center at 412.719.3424 or Gabe at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto also arranged for an immigration attorney to represent Martin pro bono in his hearings with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. His family and friends are grateful for this support. Martin currently relies on a public defender in his federal case.
The community campaign has been gathering petition signatures at public events, holding weekly prayer vigils outside of the US Federal courthouse, and asking elected officials, faith leaders, and community groups to sign on to a letter of support. Activists are planning a large march for Martín in September. A community campaign could win Martin his freedom, but only if the community acts quickly.
Gabriel McMorland is an organizer with the Thomas Merton Center. He is legally blind and his Mum is an immigrant from Scotland. Contact him to get involved with this campaign at email@example.com