New York, NY – About 75 people rallied outside federal immigration authorities’ Manhattan offices Aug. 29 to demand the release of Eber Garcia-Vasquez, a Guatemalan refugee and Teamsters Local 813 member facing deportation after he was seized during a routine check-in Aug. 24.
“Now they’ve attacked one of our own,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda told LaborPress afterwards. “This man for 26 years has been a model citizen. He’s on a path to get his green card, and they snatch him.”
“We demand that he be released and reunited with his family as soon as possible,” Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, told the crowd.
Garcia-Vasquez, 54, fled Guatemala’s rural El Quiché province in the late 1980s, after his mother and several relatives were murdered by the country’s military dictatorship, which killed more than 100,000 people during the decade—including the massacre of 116 people in his home municipality of Chicamán in September 1982. Garcia-Vasquez has worked at Stericycle, a medical-waste disposal company in Farmingdale, Long Island, for 26 years, and is married, with three children and two grandchildren.
His application for political asylum was denied, and he lost his last appeal in 2012, according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson. By then, he was applying for legal resident status—a “green card”—on the grounds that his wife and son are U.S. citizens, but that does not guarantee an automatic stay of deportation, says his lawyer, Zachary Sanders.
Sanders said he was escorted out of the building by security after he tried to argue that Garcia-Vasquez should not be detained while his application was being processed. “They didn’t want to hear it,” he told the rally.
“Garcia Vasquez had been granted multiple stays of removal which have since expired,” ICE said in a statement, “and his order of supervision—which allowed him to stay in the U.S. as long as he checked in regularly—has been revoked. He will remain in custody pending removal from the United States.”
The Teamsters Local 813 member is being held in the Bergen County jail in New Jersey.
“He’s a hardworking man and strives for good. Without him we’d have crumpled,” Garcia-Vasquez’s teenage daughter, Arly, told the crowd as her mother, Maria Chavez, sat in a wheelchair, and her baby nephew slept in a carriage. Mynor Rubio, his brother-in-law who’s worked with him at Stericycle for 24 years, described him as “a great human being” who’s always looking out for his co-workers’ safety. Despite only having a second-grade education, said Sanders, Garcia-Vasquez designed a machine to process medical waste that has been dubbed the “Eberdumper.” Other speakers denounced President Donald Trump’s attitude and policies toward immigrants.
“When he said Mexicans were thieves and rapists, he was talking about all of us,” said state Sen. Marisol Alcantara (D-Manhattan). Local 813 President Sean Campbell said “it makes no sense” to tear a man away from his family while he was “trying to do the right thing” by checking in with ICE. “We have a sociopath who resides in the White House,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Seizures of undocumented immigrants during routine check-ins have been a “rising trend” since Trump took office, says Angela Fernandez, head of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. In March, Colombian refugee Juan Vivarez, whose wife is a SEIU Local 32BJ member, was detained in similar circumstances.
It’s not just Trump, Fernandez adds: “We have to understand the economic motive.” Since 2009, a federal law known as the “detention bed quota” has required ICE to keep at least 30,000 beds open in immigrant detention centers every day. About 60% of those beds are operated by the two leading private-prison companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), she says. As of last fall, ICE was holding an average of 41,000 immigrants per day—and that was before the Trump administration announced it would deport any immigrant who’d entered the U.S. or stayed here illegally, ending the Obama administration’s policy of concentrating on those who had been convicted of crimes.
Miranda says he’s “very worried” about how those policies will affect his members, because more than half of the 120,000 Teamsters in the New York area are immigrants.