As hundreds of protesters rallied on their behalf, two popular human rights advocates from Vermont were slated to be released on bond Monday after their lawyer questioned whether their arrests on immigration violations were political retaliation by the government for advocacy on behalf of migrant workers.
Immigration Judge Paul Gagnon agreed to set bond at $2,500 for Enrique Balcazar, 24, and Zully Palacios, 23. Their lawyer, Matt Cameron, said he expected they would be able to post bond as soon as Monday evening.
Balcazar and Palacios had been held at an immigration detention center in Dover, N.H., since their arrest by US Immigration and Customs and Enforcement agents on March 17.
Their arrests sparked outrage after workers’ rights advocates who had worked with them on behalf of migrant workers questioned whether they were being targeted.
More than 10,000 people signed petitions for their release, and the campaign received the support of Vermont’s congressional delegation. US Senator Bernie Sanders sent a letter to Chris Cronen, director of ICE’s Boston field office, asking him to use prosecutorial authority in deciding whether to pursue their detention and deportation.
Gagnon’s decision Monday was only on the request to set bond; Balcazar and Palacios still face deportation.
Outside the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston, where immigration hearings are held, hundreds of supporters gathered, many of them from northern Vermont. The event was organized by Migrant Justice, a workers’ advocacy group that was formed in response to the death of a farm worker.
“We want to make sure that the [judge] hears us,” Will Lambek, of Migrant Justice, told protesters. Many of them held signs and cheered, “Down with deportation.”
Inside the courtroom, Gagnon remarked, “It’s a little distracting.” Cameron quipped, “I appreciate the energy, myself.”
The protesters also rallied on behalf of Alex Carrillo, 23, a farm worker from Vermont who was arrested by ICE on March 15. Authorities are seeking his deportation based on a drunken driving arrest last year, though Cameron said the charge was dropped by Vermont prosecutors.
Gagnon, saying immigration law follows a civil standard that requires a lesser burden of proof than a criminal charge, said he was concerned about the arrest. He ordered Carrillo held without bail pending deportation proceedings.
Carrillo’s wife, Lymarie Deida, who was in the courtroom, was visibly shaken by the decision as she held their 4-year-old daughter. She had told protesters earlier, “Me and my daughter need him home.”
Balcazar is in the country without authorization and Palacios overstayed a visitor visa by about eight months. But neither has a criminal record that would make them a priority for deportation, Cameron argued. They have been active organizers in the community; Balcazar worked on a task force set up by the Vermont attorney general to study immigration policy.
But Palacios was listed as a target in a Department of Homeland Security investigation, a classification that Cameron said is typically reserved for suspected terrorists and dangerous criminals, not for someone whose only violation is overstaying a visa.
Marna Rusher, assistant chief counsel for Homeland Security, said Balcazar and Palacios were arrested because they were in violation of immigration laws, though she did not address allegations that the two were targeted. She said authorities began investigating Palacios based on a “tip.”
Gagnon noted that it would not be unheard of for authorities to target an immigrant who overstayed a visa if they believed that person was a public safety threat, but he acknowledged Rusher was not making that allegation.
“There’s nothing wrong with immigration officers doing their job, which is to enforce the immigration laws of this country,” he said.
But Cameron also questioned why the Department of Homeland Security would seek to hold Palacios without bail, what he called unorthodox for charges of overstaying a visa. He said the law enforcement tactics that led to their arrest seemed overzealous.
“There are many of us — hundreds of people outside expressing their First Amendment right to free speech — who are concerned with this.”Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.