NP Resident Faces Possible Deportation Due to a Missed Court Date in 2011

Joel Guerrero and his wife Jessica are expecting a child later this year. Photo courtesy of Jessica Guerrero.

A 37-year-old New Paltz man’s legal plea to stay in the U.S. has been denied nearly one week after he was detained by federal immigration authorities in New York City. 

The plight of Joel Guerrero has become a well-known story statewide; spreading like wildfire throughout social media since his detainment by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Joel, who is currently being detained in Hudson County, New Jersey, moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic 20 years ago with his two brothers and parents. He maintained status as a permanent green card holder until a marijuana misdemeanor in 2006 resulted in his demotion to “temporary immigrant.” Additionally, to retain residency in the U.S., he was ordered to report to his respective ICE officer every six months for a status update.

After failing to appear to one of these routine court dates in 2011, an order of removal was issued in his absence by the judge. The family then retained the legal counsel of Jaime Castiblanco in 2014 and filed a motion to reconsider. This motion was denied, but since Joel is not a “high risk” immigrant and is married to U.S. citizen Jessica Guerrero, ICE activity under the Obama administration allowed for Guerrero’s release. 

According to Castiblanco, however, the 2011 order for removal remained valid on paper, and despite its age of six years, can just as easily take effect. 

“When I asked his ICE officer why this was happening after all these years, he said to me, ‘this is what the new administration is telling us to do,’” Jessica Guerrero said.

Joel worked as a carpenter for the Westchester County construction management company Groves Contracting Enterprises. According to Jessica, he took other freelance construction jobs whenever available. Since Jessica is six months pregnant, she is concerned for the future of her family if Joel is deported. 

“I want to keep our country safe as much as the next person,” Jessica said. “But there is a difference between what is legal under this administration and what is right. This isn’t about keeping the country safe anymore for Trump, it is about keeping it divided.” 

According to a document written by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 2, 2015, under the Obama administration, a policy existed which shielded “low-priority” immigrants with misdemeanors as well as substantial family and residence from being deported due to minor, nonviolent crimes. Situations like Guerrero’s allowed for a person such as him to maintain residency as long as he showed up to subsequent court dates before Obama left office, Castiblanco said. Contrastly, the Trump administration has exhibited a much more aggressive approach to expulsion from the country. A case like Guerrero’s is an example of such contentious policy.         

It is the opinion of Castiblanco, Jessica and New Paltz residents in opposition of Guerrero’s removal, like village trustee candidate KT Tobin, that threatening immigration policies like Trump’s will disincentivize immigrants from visiting their immigration officers in fear of facing a similar fate to Joel.  

“A lot of my clients are Latino, and a lot of them are afraid of going to court,” Castiblanco said. “It has not been easy for me to reopen Joel’s case, and this will likely be the situation for people like him.”

As of now, Joel has no prospective date for when he will appear before a judge, assuming he is allowed at all given ICE’s denial of Castiblanco’s file to reconsider. There is speculation that since the file to reconsider was starkly denied, Joel may be facing removal in the next few weeks.