Flushing law office files suit for ICE detainees

By Madina Toure

A former Astoria resident is involved in a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in an attempt to reverse his deportation to Guatemala.

Gabriel Maldonado Vasquez, 27, lived in Astoria before being deported April 8, according to the lawsuit filed by the Wang law office in Flushing May 13.

He was a cook for more than 10 years, according to his wife, Samantha Vasquez, 24, who has been married to Gabriel for six years and is living in Astoria. He had worked at the Peacefood Café in Manhattan in 2014 for about a year, she said.

She said her husband is renting a room in Antigua, Guatemala and is “severely depressed,” having been robbed twice.

“He’s trying to come back,” Samantha Vasquez said. “He’s a good person. He deserves better.”

He received his GED on Rikers Island in 2004 and at the beginning of April, submitted his application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which defers deportation action for certain people who came to the United States as children, for a two-year period, according to the lawsuit.

But he was told that he would be ineligible for DACA because he was convicted of two crimes considered to be crimes of moral turpitude, or crimes that are considered morally wrong. The classification can prevent an individual from obtaining a visa or green card.

He was denied a stay of removal—a temporary postponement of deportation—despite the fact that the moral turpitude argument was reversed.

The lawsuit was filed against Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, ICE Director Sarah Saldaña and the field office directors of ICE New York, San Antonio and Washington.

Homeland Security and Justice Department spokeswomen declined to comment on the case.

C.J. Wang, an attorney with the Wang firm, said they are awaiting a decision on whether to postpone deportation for the plaintiffs after a hearing on July 28 in the Southern District of New York.

“The class action lawsuit is against the U.S. government, specifically ICE, for their actions dealing with detainees in their custody and their violations of these detainees’ constitutional rights while they’ve been in their custody,” Wang said.

In November, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law two bills that notably reduce the city’s cooperation with ICE deportations.

The new laws require immigration officials to show a judicial warrant before the city can hold an immigrant in custody, unless the person poses a public safety risk.

Vasquez had lived in the United States since 1993, according to the lawsuit. He entered the country when he was 6 years old with his mother. Both had tourist visas.

As a juvenile, he hit his mother’s boyfriend after he beat her, but the boyfriend called the police on him, resulting in his arrest for assault, according to Wang.

He was also charged with trying to enter the Junction Boulevard subway station on June 30, 2005, without paying the fare by walking through an exit gate, according to a complaint filed by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

His mother, half-sister and his half-brother live in Bayside, but he is not close with his family, Samantha Vasquez said.

He submitted his DACA application April 7. Although DHS said he should be deported for overstaying a nonimmigrant visa and his March 2006 convictions, it was later determined that the convictions were not immigration crimes.

On March 16, ICE agents entered Vasquez’s home, arrested him and detained him at Hudson County Correctional in Kearny, N.J., the lawsuit added. He was told his misdemeanor convictions would make him ineligible for DACA. His stay of removal was denied April 3.

He was transferred to facilities in New York and Louisiana and experienced pain and bruising during the process, according to the lawsuit. He was denied medical attention before his Guatemala flight.

The District of New Jersey postponed the execution of his deportation April 8, but ICE deported him, Wang said.

Vasquez filed an appeal of his dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeals Third Circuit May 12, which is pending.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour[email protected]local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

More from Around New York