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Identity & Community

Pittsburgh Activist Declines Felony Plea Deal, Remains In Jail

A Pittsburgh man who was arrested in May for being in the United States illegally declined to take a plea deal negotiated in federal court Thursday as expected. Lawyers for Martin Esquivel-Hernandez said they'd hoped their client’s felony re-entry charges would be reduced to misdemeanors, which would have decreased the possibility of his deportation.

Daniel Kovilak, a lawyer working on the case, said prosecutors told him they don’t have the authority to change the charges.

“They’re claiming their hands are tied legally, but we don’t believe that to be the case,” Kovilak said. “They’re taking a hard line on it.”

More than 50 supporters gathered at the federal courthouse Downtown to protest the treatment of immigrants in the city and advocate for Esquivel-Hernandez’s release. After the brief hearing inside, the group marched down Grant Street to the City-County Building chanting “not one more” and “no borders, no nation, stop the deportation.”

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Antonia Domingo from the Pittsburgh chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement tells the crowd about the importance of making Pittsburgh a "sanctuary city" for immigrants and refugees on Dec. 8, 2016.

Speaking through translator Maria Duarte, Esquivel-Hernandez’s wife Alma Brigido told the crowd she didn’t know how to tell her children that their father would not be with them for the holidays.

“This time of year is meant to be a joyful celebration for most, but for us it will not be,” Brigido said. “He has lost seven months of his life already. Let him return home.”

Esquivel-Hernandez, a native of Mexico, was arrested in May when Mt. Lebanon police contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Officers pulled him over for driving without a valid license.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, he’d been removed from the country four times between 2011-2012.

Advocates argued Esquivel-Hernandez status as an active part of Pittsburgh’s Latino Community should count toward his release. He worked in construction and lived with his wife and three children.

He had no criminal record. Without the plea deal, his immigration case should go to trial Jan. 3.