Gilberto Reyes-Herrera was a model citizen--whether or not he had the papers to prove it. He and his wife came to the United States from Mexico more than a quarter-century ago. They settled in western New York, where they raised three children. One has graduated from college, one will soon graduate, and one is in middle school, on the honor roll.
Reyes-Herrera worked hard to provide for his family, often putting in thirteen-hour days in the vineyards. He paid taxes and was known for helping others with home projects. Family friend Nancy Richardson tells The Progressive, "He never had so much as a speeding ticket."
Last June, Reyes-Herrera was a passenger in a car pulled over by a New York state trooper. The driver was cited for not wearing a safety belt; Reyes-Herrera was buckled up. The trooper, improperly, asked about his immigration status. One thing led to another and Reyes-Herrera found himself in detention, charged with being in the country after a prior deportation.
During an emotional court appearance in January, Reyes-Herrera fought back tears. "My heart is destroyed from separating from my family," he told the court. Reyes-Herrera pleaded guilty to illegal reentry to the United States. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Siragusa, noting the large number of supporters who turned out for the case, praised Reyes-Herrera for being "a good man," adding, "I hope that by some miracle you can stay in the country."
Reyes-Herrera's friends and family did all they could to make that happen. According to Richardson, they reached out to U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats of New York. They enlisted the help of the Worker Justice Center of New York. They challenged the legitimacy of his detention, noting that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014 directed state police to not use their resources to apprehend undocumented immigrants. Last September, after Reyes-Herrera's arrest, Cuomo made this policy even more explicit.
None of these efforts made a difference. Judge Siragusa accepted Reyes-Herrera's guilty plea, sentenced him to time served, and ordered him to pay $7. But then he was taken away in shackles to face an immigration judge. On February 13, the judge rejected a request to stay his order of removal. On February 28, Reyes-Herrera was deported to Mexico.
Two weeks after Reyes-Herrera was arrested, his family closed on the purchase of their first home, something he had worked toward for decades. He may never...