Here is our follow-up on Monday’s story, “Undocumented in the Hudson Valley,” after reporter Michael Frank finally got to talk with Luis Martinez, that story’s main subject. Despite rumors circulated on Facebook that he was no longer on a list to be deported, his attorney, Cheryl David, said it wasn’t true. His case is still active. He’s still being detained by ICE at Orange County Correctional Facility, in Goshen, New York, and he’s still there because ICE wants to deport him. Here’s what else Frank learned:
To understand the situation better, and to hopefully chat with Luis by cell phone, on Tuesday I went to La Charla on Main Street in New Paltz, the restaurant Martinez runs along with his mother, Maria Raymundo, and his wife, Tina. I sat and chatted with Tina while she waited for the phone to ring. We were waiting for Martinez to call collect from the jail. Tina said that Monday morning had been brutal for her. Normally Martinez would call at 8:30 a.m. “As soon as they release them he always rushes to the phones,” she explained. But on Monday he didn’t call. And after the news over the weekend that he was on a list to be deported, Tina said she had barely been able to sleep. “The ICE officer had gone to him to say, ‘You have to get ready to get on a plane,’” Tina recalled, explaining how her husband had heard of his impending deportation late on the evening of Friday, March 22.
That quickly led Tina’s friends to organize a rally for him, where well over 100 protestors arrived and marched outside the walls of the Orange County Correctional Facility this past Sunday. When the rally evoked a visceral response from within the jail, with hoots and shouts from the detainees, officials within the jail were worried and wanted the Orange County Sheriff’s department to disperse the protestors or start making arrests.
Tina said that inside the jail the situation for Martinez was moving—and distressing. He’d caught up with her on the phone that night. “The other men in the jail told my husband, ‘You must be somebody important. You’re not invisible, like us.’ Some guys in there, their families don’t even know where they are,” Tina continued.
Meanwhile, as moved as they both were by the well-wishers outside the prison, by Sunday night both Tina and Luis were back to worrying, hoping that his lawyers’ last-last-second federal request for a stay in his case would stick. If the Southern District of New York court in White Plains refused the habeas request, Martinez could be deported rapidly.
So when Monday came and Tina hadn’t heard from her husband, she felt awful. “He gave my number to another detainee, so that guy could call me in case they deported Luis.”
Tina said she was waiting to hear from her husband, to say “I’m still here.” When he didn’t call her at 8:30, “I just sat down in my chair to drink coffee, waiting with my phone in my hand.” Then 9:30 came and went. Then 10:30. The phone finally rang at 10:35.
“He said, ‘I have news for you,’ and I had to hold my breath.” Tina said. “What was he going to say? Was it bad news?”
That kind of agonizing delay was in fact repeating itself as we talked the next day. Martinez was again supposed to call, this time at 3:30 p.m., and it was now nearing 5, still with no word. “I don’t know why,” she shrugged.
Then, just as we were about to give up, her phone vibrated to life. It was Luis. He apologized that it had taken this long to talk, then we quickly moved to talking about his case, knowing he wouldn’t be allowed to stay on the phone for long.
“What they said to me is they can’t send me back until I’ve had an interview with an asylum officer, and until I see a judge.” Martinez then explained that he has a legitimate claim for asylum stemming from the fact that his father was murdered in Mexico. This same justification has precedent; It’s how his mother, Maria Raymundo, was able to pursue protected status and then citizenship in the US, and the original path Martinez was on way back in the 1990s as an adolescent. “Even if they refuse the asylum,” Martinez continued, “I still have the U Visa,” the form of protection Martinez applied for in 2016, which is available to him because he helped the Newburgh police to try to capture the murderer of his brother, Jesus.
With time short, Martinez also said he wanted to thank New Paltz for the protest.
“People were really excited but we were really calm in my unit. People in the adjacent unit [who could see the banners on the street and hear people chanting] got really loud. But we were just happy and grateful—but at the same time it’s sad to hear people outside and know you cannot have contact to thank all of them.” Martinez explained that there was also confusion about the protest after the fact, and how it had formed. He said other detainees thought it must have been some big organization that created the event. “They were asking me how could this happen only for me, and I told them these are the people in my community. I told them, 95 percent of those people, I know them.”
When prompted about his own circumstances, and asked if he’d have tried to live a quieter life if he had a chance to revise his path, Martinez was philosophical. “There are people in here who have lived properly, who only have something like a minor traffic fine and they actually have a green card and they got picked up by ICE.” But he said what he would have changed would’ve been to pursue citizenship with more fervor.
“I think for a period of time I got too busy. I was just worried about how to be a good resident and just blending into the community. I don’t have documents, but I feel like I belong to the community. I do as much as I can, spend as much time with my kids and my family.” Martinez said he consulted with lawyers but grew frustrated with the process so for a time he set aside pursuing his citizenship. Now both the shock of his circumstances and the realization that he has a shot via the U Visa has rekindled his effort. And also, hearing from so many residents of New Paltz that want to help him.
“I feel blessed having all these people outside thinking about me. That gives me more ammunition for me to keep fighting.”
The conversation ended quickly and Tina said it’s always like that—far too short, and also that every time is expensive, since all calls from the jail are collect. Tina said frequently a chat with her husband will cost $15 for ten minutes. The hidden tax of phone charges between prisoners and their families has been well documented by excellent reporting from the Prison Policy Initiative, and, Tina said, “Naturally my husband feels that. He’s always looking for someone to help.” Just prior to Martinez hearing that he might be deported, he rang Tina and asked her to call another detainee’s wife. “He said, ‘Here’s the number, he doesn’t have the money to call her collect and she doesn’t know he’s in here.’ ”
“That’s just my husband,” Tina explained. He’s vowed that if he gets out he’s going to dedicate himself to doing whatever he can to help connect detainees with their families. “So many guys in there,” Tina said, “They work so hard, they have everything here. Their families need to know where they are.”