About 50 advocates for local activist and Mexican immigrant Martín Esquivel-Hernandez held a rally in downtown Pittsburgh Tuesday morning, calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop deportation proceedings against him.
Esquivel-Hernandez has been in detention since May 2 and faces criminal charges for alleged re-entry after deportation. He's currently at a federal detention center outside of Youngstown, Ohio. According to a City Paper investigation, he came to the U.S. to be with his wife, Alma Brigido, their children and his mother. A Department of Justice press release indicates he had already been removed from the country four times.
“I don’t know that we would be putting up the same defense for a lot of other folks,” said Guillermo Perez, president of Labor Council for Latin American Advancement in Pittsburgh. “Martín was a civic activist, he was engaged in the community.”
Perez said Esquivel-Hernandez, a father of three, worked in construction and volunteered at his children’s schools and local organizations focused on serving Pittsburgh’s Latino community.
“When ICE came and took Martín, there was no question that we had to stand up and fight back for this family,” Perez said. “They’re part of us. They define the future of Pittsburgh.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Brigido said caring for their three children has been very difficult without her husband. Their oldest daughter, Shayla Esquivel-Hernandez, 11, thanked the crowd for coming to support her family.
“Sometimes at school I sometimes cry and the teachers ask me why. I tell them it’s just a piece of my hair that fell in my eye,” she said. “My dad tells me it’s never good to lie. It’s hard for me.”
Advocates have been holding weekly prayer vigils outside the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh since this summer.
Perez said Esquival-Hernandez’s lawyers are negotiating a plea deal with the U.S. attorney’s office, but could not disclose the details.
“We have every reason to believe that the judge will approve the agreement, so for that reason we’re not focusing our attention on ICE,” he said. “It is possible that, notwithstanding the plea agreement, ICE could go ahead and deport Martín.”
Perez and others are calling on ICE to exercise "prosecutorial discretion" and not deport Esquivel-Hernandez if a plea deal is reached.
The U.S. Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while ICE declined to comment. The hearing date is set for Dec. 8.