December 9, 2016
By Mike Telian
Photos By Marni Fritz
Martin Esquivel-Hernandez is a 35-year-old husband, father, worker, and immigrant to Pittsburgh by way of Mexico. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided his house on May 2nd of this year, following an unwarranted traffic stop, and he has been incarcerated and facing deportation since. As of this writing on December 8th, Martin is still in federal custody, and was recently denied bail. Community supporters continue to call on U.S. Attorney Soo Song to use her power of prosecutorial discretion to dismiss the immigrations related charge, or agree to a misdemeanor plea that could prevent deportation.
What began as a hopeful day for the over 100 people who marched from the courthouse to city hall ended in sadness, as the U.S. attorney’s office failed to negotiate an acceptable plea deal for Martin Esquivel-Hernandez. Not only will he be unable to see his family during the holidays, he could still face deportation by ICE on top of a federal felony charge for illegal reentry after deportation. This does not need to happen. Both U.S. Attorney Soo Song and the ICE Field Office Director have the individual power to withdraw charges or agree to a deal that would avoid deportation.
ICE ‘s own policies state that they should focus on people who present a threat to public safety or national security; since leaving Mexico as an undocumented immigrant in 2012, Martin has become an active member of two churches, his local school, and several organizations for the latinx community, hardly fitting the profile. His wife Alma has called on ICE to right this wrongful arrest and potential deportation, saying:
Martin is a man that has always found ways to help others without thinking of himself. US Attorney Soo Song and ICE director Thomas Decker, you use your power for injustice, depriving us from having the possibilities to support our families. We are all the same; you all have families, so do we. You all fight for your children, so do we. You all work to support your families, so do we. Martin’s only crime was to do the right thing. Martin is in a for-profit jail for driving home from work so that he could take care of his family and for driving while brown.
If the attorney’s office and ICE continue to ignore the community’s voice, the campaign plans to respond with bold, creative actions. Communities around the country have launched similar deportation defense campaigns, as flawed immigration laws often do not allow for real justice.
While Martin’s case is clearly especially poignant for the people of Pittsburgh- due to his reputation as an upstanding worker, family man, and community figure– the same injustice affects millions of people across the country. While president-elect Trump brings an increased threat to undocumented people, the Obama administration already oversaw more deportations than any previous administration.
On November 21st, activists involved in the campaign traveled to Philadelphia for a rally outside the ICE offices, and were joined by activists in that city in a show of solidarity. The campaign has also had some contact with the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, which has provided insight into running similar campaigns. Labor groups like Pittsburgh United, the Fight for $15, SEIU, and Unite Here have also lent support.
The campaign has developed a much needed network of concerned and active citizens in Pittsburgh, one that hopefully remains connected and organized in some way after the conclusion of Martin’s specific case; to be sure, there will be more attempted deportations in and around Pittsburgh. Connections between the main groups involved in the campaign such as LCLAA (Labor Council of Latin American Advancement), The A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) Coalition, The Thomas Merton Center, and Casa san Jose have been formed and could potentially lead to further cooperation around immigrant justice issues.
Pittsburgh may have a budding immigrant defense network and capable activists willing to work on the issue, knowledge of the process, help from around the country, and plans for the future of this specific case, but for Martin Esquivel everything will come to a head on January 4th, the date of his trial with the U.S Attorney.
Mike Telian is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and currently volunteers at the Thomas Merton Center.