A Mexican dairy worker and leader in the immigrant LGBTQ community faces deportation after immigration agents arrested him on New Year's Eve inside a Middlebury courthouse.
Cruz Alberto Sanchez-Perez, known as Beto, had just pleaded not guilty to a charge of driving under the influence when he was scooped up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, according to Migrant Justice.
The 26-year-old farmworker, who has been in the country since 2015, has filed for asylum in the U.S., claiming that he faced persecution in his home country based on his sexual orientation. After his arrest on immigration charges, Sanchez-Perez was being held at the Strafford County, N.H., detention center and was due to appear at an immigration court in Boston on Thursday, Migrant Justice said.
ICE has a policy of generally not carrying out enforcement actions at sensitive locations such as schools and places of worship. The agency, however, does not view courthouses as a sensitive location, according to its website.
ICE agents have previously made arrests inside or just outside Vermont courthouses. Angel Garcia of Providence, R.I., was taken into ICE custody in February 2017 as he entered Superior Court in Windsor County to answer to a DUI charge, VTDigger.org reported at the time. In March of the same year, ICE agents arrested Cesar Alex Carrillo outside the Edward J. Costello Courthouse in Burlington as he headed to a hearing for a DUI arrest.
"Since the Trump administration came into office, ICE has been invading state courthouses across the country, spreading fear throughout immigrant communities, disrupting the judiciary and frankly, preventing access to justice," said Jay Diaz, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.
Regardless of his immigration status, Sanchez-Perez has a right to due process, Diaz said: "When ICE moved in and arrested him when he was trying to access to those rights, it's truly antithetical to constitutional norms and the sanctity that courthouses represent."
According to an ICE official, the agency works with prosecutors to ensure that someone picked up for deportation proceedings first settles any local criminal charges. "That is a conversation we routinely have with prosecutors," he said.
The spokesperson said he is not authorized to speak on the record because the agency's public affairs officers are furloughed and prohibited by law from working due to the ongoing federal government shutdown.
The spokesperson said "we don't make a lot of courthouse arrests," which he described as "targeted" operations.
"We do not arrest victims and witnesses," he said. "That is not something we do at courthouses or anywhere else."
But most people are "not in the weeds" on different enforcement policies, Diaz said. When members of the undocumented community hear that ICE is going to courthouses and arresting people, this prevents even victims of crime and witnesses from coming forward to ask for help, he continued.
"What they know is what they hear," said Diaz. "And what they hear is that ICE is in the courthouses and looking for people who may be undocumented."
Marita Canedo from Migrant Justice said the migrant advocacy organization is in regular contact with Sanchez-Perez to offer him support. An online petition calling for public support for his release has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
“For anybody in immigration detention, that’s a difficult position to be in, particularly for Beto, as an out gay man,” said Will Lambek, a Migrant Justice spokesperson.
"He's worried about possibilities for abuse and persecution and we are calling on ICE to release him so that he can be in his community and continue to pursue his asylum claim," Lambek said.
A lawsuit that Migrant Justice filed in November in U.S. District Court in Burlington mentions Sanchez-Perez. The group alleges that the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and ICE have been illegally harassing, arresting and detaining its members as a retaliatory tactic.
ICE agents arrested Sanchez-Perez in August 2016 to interrogate him about a car crash in which he was a passenger. The agents held him overnight, “did not allow him to contact an attorney and made multiple references to his perceived sexual orientation," the suit alleges.
The Pride Center of Vermont said Sanchez-Perez previously helped to develop programs for LGBTQ migrants in Addison County. In a statement to Seven Days, the group said that his detention “has already deprived Vermont of a valued and constructive community member.”