Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh man who received local and national attention for his immigration case, has been deported after eight months in prison.
Esquivel-Hernandez, originally of Mexico, had been held by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement since May 2016. His wife and three children, the youngest of whom is an American citizen, will remain in Pittsburgh.
Thomas Merton Center organizer Christina Castillo said the deportation has been a major blow to the city's Latino community.
"ICE is now coming for our families, probably now more than ever," Castillo said. "The only thing left to do is to intervene and make sure this never happens again. To make sure no child has to grow up without a parent."
Activists had petitioned for Esquivel-Hernandez’ release since he was arrested for driving without a license. As a person in the country without permission, he was unable to obtain a Pennsylvania license. He had no prior criminal record.
"(ICE is) criminalizing our communities," Castillo said. "They're stripping us of our basic human rights. So, before Martin we were fighting, and after Martin, we will continue fighting."
A statement from ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls cited Esquivel-Hernandez’ previous misdemeanor illegal re-entry convictions in 2012 and 2017 as reasons for his removal.
“Federal authorities removed him to Mexico four times since 2011, with the latest removal taking place in 2012,” the statement read. “As a result, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has designated Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez’ case as a priority for immigration enforcement.”
Family and friends of Esquivel-Hernandez elicited the support of local leaders, including Mayor Bill Peduto, Bishop David Zubik and Congressman Mike Doyle.
In December, Esquivel-Hernandez signed a plea deal that allowed him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor illegal re-entry charge, rather than a felony. Advocates said with a felony, his chances of deportation would have increased.
Organizers will gather Tuesday night at 5 p.m. on the South Side near Pittsburgh's ICE office.