“I didn’t know the extent to which people were living in fear and suffering in my own community, and it was heartbreaking to hear that a place where I feel so safe and comfortable could be so hostile to others,” local New Paltz activist Ronnie Yastion shared in an email.
Since President Donald Trump’s January 2017 crackdown on undocumented immigrants, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents’ raids have escalated across the country. The Trump administration has asserted that immigrants pose a threat to American citizens, and pledged to deport three million undocumented immigrants with criminal records in 2017. Panic has spread throughout immigrant communities, including the Hudson Valley, as ICE agents sweep the homes and workplaces of undocumented immigrants without criminal records (The Washington Post, “Immigration enforcement raids include the Hudson Valley,” 02.12.2017).
Over the past two years, the stories of several high profile members of Hudson Valley communities have received considerable media coverage. In 2017, Kingston restaurant owner Leo Santos fled for Mexico in fear of deportation, leaving behind his business and family. In December 2018, a head chef of the restaurant Anchor, Juan Carlos Alonzo, left for Mexico under “voluntary departure” status after being detained by ICE agents. New Paltz resident Matthew Rojas, a “dreamer” brought to the United States as an undocumented child, was detained in by ICE agents outside the New Paltz Justice Court on his hearing date for a previous arrest for drug possession (The River Newsroom, “ICE in the Hudson Valley,” 02.13.2019).
Arguably the most high-profile arrest made in the Hudson Valley is that of Owner of New Paltz construction company Lalo Group Luis Martinez. Martinez was detained outside his office on Jan. 16, 2018 and is jailed at the Orange County Correctional Facility. Throughout his life, he has tried to attain legal status, yet repeatedly encountered conditions that have complicated the process. After the murder of his father, his mother fled to the U.S. to claim asylum and was eventually granted citizenship. Martinez was not and subsequently filed for a Green Card (The River Newsroom, “Undocumented in the Hudson-Valley: The Luis Martinez Story,” 03.25.2019).
Martinez was deported twice. A 2014 misdemeanor DUI charge in which he did not post bail could have offered the ICE a chance to deport him a third time. In 2016, Martinez filed for a U-visa, which are granted to victims of crimes who cooperate with the police, after witnessing the murder of his brother in 1999. Requests for such visas have increased exponentially since 2016 (The River Newsroom, “Undocumented”).
Martinez’s story has garnered much attention due to his presence in his community. His construction business, alongside his restaurant, La Charla, employ dozens of people in New Paltz and New York City. He donates to St. Joseph’s Church, helps coach youth basketball and soccer leagues and donates more than four tons of food each year to low-income communities through Healthy Ulster (The River Newsroom, “Undocumented”).
Yastion felt compelled to show her support for Martinez after reading about his detainment in an article. Martinez’s son, Luis, is friends with her own son. “He was just another dad in our community and it was shocking and disturbing that he had been dragged off,” she shared in an email.
Yastion organized rallies of support for Martinez at his restaurant and the Newburgh ICE office, where a petition with 1,000 signatures was hand-delivered to the office. She has collaborated with New Paltz Councilman Daniel Torres to create the One-Pulse New Paltz fund to aid other families affected by the ICE detainments. According to Yastion, those detained are typically the breadwinners of their families; as a result, they have been forced to leave their families behind to face economic hardship.
The individuals whose stories have been spotlighted by Hudson Valley news media are some of many stories of those detained by ICE in the region. Agents have imprisoned many other community members over the years, frequently outside courthouses and probation offices (The River, “Voice from behind Bars,” 03.29.2019).
“It really has to do with if you’re involved in the community because if you’re not, it’s hard for people to know you,” Ulster County Organizer for Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson (NLMH) Diana Lopez explained. NLMH organizers have protested at several demonstrations for Martinez, including outside the Orange County jail and the Newburgh ICE office, and started a petition on his behalf.
Lopez stressed the importance of protecting all undocumented immigrants in the community, adding, “[NLMH] still help people who are not [as involved] in the community, because we’re all human, we all deserve rights and we all need dignity and respect.” As a result, the organization has petitioned for municipal identification programs in cities across the Mid-Hudson.
Like other undocumented immigrants, Martinez was frustrated by the lengthy, costly process of seeking out immigration lawyers and filing paperwork to gain legal status. Founder of the undocumented youth organization Adelante Student Voices Gabriella Quintanilla felt similar frustration once she attained her Green Card after arriving undocumented from El Salvador at age 13. “When I got [the Green Card] in the mail I just felt, ‘ugh, I hate this so much.’ It’s just a piece of plastic that means so much to my life. The moment I had that [card] in my hands, my whole life changed,” she expressed.
Much like Martinez, Quintanilla spent her life contributing to her local community despite her status. She feels that the current immigration system is a broken system that works, explaining, “When we need workers, we call on the immigrants to do the labor that Americans don’t wanna do. When it gets too much, they say ‘Well, it’s time for you to go home. They’re rapists. They’re bad people.’”