The arrest of an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant by a team of federal immigration agents as he walked through an East Boston park on his way to work has sparked an outcry after a passerby posted a video of his detention on social media.
On Tuesday morning, several agents surrounded Elder Misan Guerra-Perez, 40, and searched him as a fourth US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent told startled bystanders to stay back. They led him to an unmarked van as Abdi Ali, an East Boston activist and organizer, recorded the arrest.
“I don’t think this is right,” Ali said during the recording.
Guerra-Perez had lived in the US illegally for at least a decade and had failed to voluntarily leave the country after the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered him to depart in January 2014, according to an ICE spokesman.
Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said the arrest of someone on his way to work “is deeply disturbing and once again raises questions about the agency’s growing presence and operations in our communities.”
“We demand transparency into ICE’s enforcement activities in the Boston area — including their collaboration with local law enforcement. The fear and intimidation this rogue agency exacts in our communities must end,” she said in a statement.
Andrea Campbell, a Boston city councilor, wrote on Twitter that “we should NOT have to hope someone nearby or involved in a police stop will record it to ensure there is accountability and justice for those involved.”
In October, city leaders criticized immigration officers after the release of a video showing agents questioning a Black man who was jogging through West Roxbury. ICE said the agents had been searching for a different man who faces deportation to Haiti.
On Wednesday, East Boston immigration lawyer Matt Cameron said he is concerned that such arrests have become increasingly routine.
“This is what an ICE arrest looks like,” he said. “The only thing that’s unusual about this case is that someone got it on video.”
Reached Wednesday through a Zoom call set up by a pair of East Boston activists, Guerra-Perez said through an interpreter that he was walking to the Airport MBTA station around 7 a.m. on his way to his job as a maintenance worker when ICE agents asked what his name was, how old his son was, and if he had a pocket knife. He told the agents they could search him.
He said he was arrested without explanation and taken to an ICE center in Burlington. He was released from custody the same day and returned home.
He said he felt “broken and lost” by the experience. His phone was taken from him and he had no way of contacting his family for a time. Eventually, ICE explained why he was being detained, he said. He declined to discuss the explanation, saying a lawyer he had obtained had advised against it.
During the Zoom call with the Globe, ICE authorities called Guerra-Perez, saying that they wanted to see him Thursday. After that call, Guerra-Perez, who has a toddler-aged son who lives in East Boston, acknowledged he was afraid he would be sent back to Guatemala.
Ali, who was on his way to work out when he saw Guerra-Perez’s arrest, said he wants lawmakers to use their power to ensure Guerra-Perez is not deported.
“What happened to Elder is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s going to further terrorize our community that is already under attack by ICE and by COVID.”
Cameron said ICE agents typically know who they are looking for in these kinds of arrests. Often they are acting on a removal order from a judge or detaining someone they suspect is a gang member, he said. Immigration authorities are not conducting random sweeps or going house-to-house in neighborhoods with substantial immigrant communities like East Boston, he said.
ICE officers initially encountered Guerra-Perez in 2010 “after being arrested by the Boston Police Department on local charges,” a spokesman said in an e-mail. He did not provide details about those charges or how they were resolved. No record of Guerra-Perez’s arrest could be found on the state court website.
Guerra-Perez was found to have illegally entered the United States but was released on bail. He was allowed to stay in the country for four years while his case was pending in immigration court, according to ICE. He appealed a 2011 order by a federal immigration judge to leave, then lost that appeal in January 2014 and was given 60 days to voluntarily depart.
The video Ali posted on Twitter shows three plainclothes agents wearing masks stop Guerra-Perez, who dropped his backpack and stood quietly as they searched him. A fourth agent stood nearby and ordered Ali to stay back. Five agents led Guerra-Perez to a van, parked on the street alongside the park.
Boston police and Massport, which owns the park where Guerra-Perez was stopped, said they were not involved in the arrest.
Attorney Eliana Nader, chair of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the Trump Administration has made it a priority to arrest any undocumented immigrants who face removal, not just those who are violent criminals.
“It doesn’t make us any safer,” Nader said.