Mexican farmworker remains in custody

ADDISON COUNTY — A local farmworker from Mexico remains in custody after his arrest on Sunday, June 24, by agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Alejandro Hernández Ventura, a 25-year-old employee at an Addison County dairy farm, is being held at a detention center in Strafford County, N.H.
“We’ve been in constant contact with him,” said Enrique Mesa, an immigration lawyer in Manchester, N.H., who is representing Hernández Ventura. “He’s very frustrated and very scared.”
Unlike many other ICE detainees, who are frequently held without bond, Hernández Ventura’s bond is set at $14,000, which Mesa says is an indication that ICE does not view him as a threat.
“It helps prove our point that he’s not a danger to the community, and he’s not a flight risk,” Mesa said.
Mesa said that the arrest took place as Hernández Ventura and his girlfriend were leaving their home on the farm, whose name and exact location have not been disclosed, to go on a date. According to a press release from the advocacy group Migrant Justice, ICE agents began following their car, before pulling it over and placing Hernández Ventura in handcuffs. The release also alleges that ICE agents grabbed the woman’s cell phone from her hands when she attempted to call her lawyer.
Hernández Ventura’s case has spurred community support. A Migrant Justice petition calling for Hernández Ventura’s release from ICE custody had more than 1,100 signatures as of Friday morning, and the group is also raising money in an effort to help Hernández Ventura’s family with legal fees and bail costs. And at the June 30 rally in Burlington against President Trump’s immigration policies, some marchers carried signs protesting Hernández Ventura’s arrest, according to Seven Days.
According to Mesa, Hernández Ventura’s arrest is a likely result of the Trump administration’s escalated enforcement practices on noncriminal undocumented immigrants.
“During the Obama era, ICE had specific priorities. Go after criminals: that’s your mandate,” Mesa said. “Unfortunately, since (Trump), they basically don’t care. They will pick up anybody and everybody that is undocumented and they will put them in jail and they have to wait two to three weeks before getting a hearing.”
Mesa hopes that Hernández Ventura will be granted a hearing before a judge this week, where Mesa will ask that the bond be lowered.
“We’re going to be showing his community ties in Vermont and all the work that he’s done with Migrant Justice,” Mesa said. “I think we have a very good shot at bringing down the bond from where it is.”
Even if Hernández Ventura is released soon from ICE custody, his future in the United States remains uncertain. Mesa said a hearing would likely be scheduled for sometime in 2019, where he would argue that Hernández Ventura should be granted asylum based on his fear of violence back home in Mexico. But given last month’s announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that fear of gang violence can no longer considered grounds for asylum, such an argument may not be enough to stop deportation.
“No matter what, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Alejandro,” Mesa said.
According to Migrant Justice, Hernández Ventura left Mexico at the age of 16 to live and work in the U.S., and frequently sent money to his family in Mexico before his arrest.
“Because of Alejandro’s sacrifice, his two younger siblings have been able to stay in school,” the press release read. “Since his grandmother fell ill several years ago with complications from diabetes, Alejandro has provided the funds needed for her medical care.”
Mesa said the loss of Hernández Ventura’s income during his detention has already created difficulties for his family.
“It’s already been two to three weeks and that money has run out, and these people are suffering,” he said.
For undocumented immigrants like Hernández Ventura, who Mesa said has had no prior contact with law enforcement, the experience of detention is bewildering.
“He has no run-ins with the law. These people have never been inside a jail cell, and they’ve never been inside the penal system,” Mesa said. “These people are scared out of their mind, because they’re like, ‘Why am I here? Why am I in this predicament?’”
The Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line has seen a big increase recently in calls reporting undocumented immigrants — so much so that it has beefed up staffing at its Williston call center. Click here to read that story.

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