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Know Your Rights
Source: Manhattan Times News
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Washington Heights Cab Driver Avoids Deportation

There was a sigh of relief Thu., Oct. 28 for a Northern Manhattan cab driver who narrowly avoided deportation following his arrest last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Eligio Valerio stood closely to his daughter, Elibany, during a press conference as Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Guillermo Linares, the Democratic nominee for the 72nd Assembly District, addressed a small crowd gathered outside of 26 Federal Plaza immediately following his release.

After Espaillat spoke, Rodriguez gave a clear and ardent plea.

“ICE is out of control,” said Rodriguez, “that’s the bottom line.”

Valerio appeared solemn, but subtly demonstrated gestures of affection toward his daughter after what was a traumatic week for the family. He only took the microphone briefly, speaking in his native Spanish to thank local officials and the community for its support. His daughter stepped in afterward to translate.

Just days earlier, Elibany stood at another press conference where she was tearful and frightened while explaining that her father, a legal permanent resident since 1979, had been detained on Oct. 20.

The charge used by ICE to hold Valerio dates back to 1982 when he was a bodega owner in Washington Heights. He had been arrested for possession of an unregistered gun that he said he used for protection while he ran his store. Valerio completed three years of probation and has maintained a clean record since then.

“Even the judge who saw him Wednesday was confused. He asked ‘Why is he here’?” said Rodriguez.

At the press conference Valerio’s lawyer did not permit him to comment further. Asked if there was another factor that led ICE to arrest him, Rodriguez said he did not know. ICE has declined to comment on their reason for detaining Valerio.

Valerio’s arrest comes after a recent surge by the federal government to increase deportations with a program called Secure Communities.

According to the ICE Web site, Secure Communities is ICE’s comprehensive strategy to improve and modernize the identification and removal of criminal aliens from the United States. Agents work with local authorities to obtain fingerprints and compare them with their records.

ICE emphasizes its intent to deport the worst of the worst, those with crimes like murder or rape on their record. The reality, however, is that people like Valerio with minor non-violent offenses are getting caught in the system.

Advocates and local officials like Rodriguez, Espaillat and Linares are calling on Governor Patterson to withdraw New York from participating with Secure Communities because it is wrongfully detaining some New Yorkers.

Elibany, who works as a paralegal, brought her father’s case to the attention of local officials because she believed her father’s rights had been violated.

While praising Elibany for coming forward, officials are concerned about those detainees who are not informed of their rights, like a young Mexican teenager Mr. Valerio met in the detention center.

“What about the average citizen, what about the young man Mr. Valerio met inside who is a teenager, a Mexican teenager, he knows how to speak both English and Spanish, educated here,” said Rodriguez, “He told Mr. Valerio that all he was doing was graffiti. Because of that, he will be deported next week to Mexico.”

Officials are also concerned that Secure Communities will discourage undocumented residents from reporting serious crimes or accidents in their neighborhoods due to fears of being deported.

Valerio escaped deportation this week but he is due to return to the detention center for a second court appearance with the judge in January. While that looms ahead, Rodriguez was hopeful.

“ICE took his green card, but we are confident”, said Rodriguez. “It could be that this is a mistake, but if it’s a mistake they have to fix it.”

As the press conference ended, a local advocacy group, Make the Road, chanted “familia, familia unidad jamas sera vencida”, which in Spanish loosely means “family, family, together will never be torn apart or ended.”

For now, Valerio is happy to be reunited with his family, especially now as his daughter awaits the birth of her child next month.