ICE questions, then releases, undocumented Lynn resident

His attorney says she was shocked at release

AN UNDOCUMENTED Lynn resident reported voluntarily to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on Friday and, to the surprise of his attorney, was allowed to leave.

“I am so pleased. I’m giving thanks to God and all the people who have helped me,” said Rogelio Gonzalez in a Spanish-language phone interview just minutes after his release.

While most ICE check-ins are currently being done remotely, most situations where an undocumented immigrant comes into contact with ICE end in detention, due to an ongoing Trump administration policy.

Gonzalez’s attorney, Susan Church, said her client was briefly detained for about an hour and a half on Friday. She wasn’t allowed inside with him. “Then he just walked out the back door. I was shocked,” she said.

Gonzalez believes his entanglement with ICE was set in motion during the summer when he contacted his landlord, She-Ling Wong, concerning repairs not being addressed at his apartment, including nonfunctioning smoke detectors, no front door locks, mold from an upstairs water pipe bursting, electrical issues, and mice and cockroach infestation. He began to withhold rent of $1,600 a month in July, saying that the issues created health risks to his family. The family was served with a 14-day notice to quit the premises despite an ongoing eviction moratorium.

That’s when Gonzalez claims Wong threatened to call ICE several times. Gonzalez is originally from Guatemala, and had been arrested three times in the past for entering the country illegally. Those arrests were for civil, not criminal, violations.

Gonzalez was detained on October 5 by ICE officials outside his home, but was released after protesters with Lynn United for Change surrounded the authorities’ unmarked van with Gonzalez inside, handcuffed. His 13-year-old daughter, who was home doing remote learning, had called the group, which had been helping the family bring the conditions in the home to the attention of city officials in Lynn.

The group of ICE officers said Gonzalez would be released on the condition that he report to the New England regional headquarters in Burlington on Friday for a check-in. The release was also made on the grounds that ICE has a policy that it can’t make an arrest if doing so would leave a young child alone.

Wong could not be reached for comment, but told WBUR that he didn’t call federal immigration officials. “There’s no reason I called ICE, since I know they are legal … they don’t have any evidence [that I called immigration],” he said. “They just bullshit.”

Attorney General Maura Healey’s office opened an investigation earlier this month into the landlord’s alleged use of threats of deportation against Gonzalez and other tenants in the building. A spokeswoman for Healey said the office has been keeping a close eye on self-help evictions – where a landlord illegally goes around the court process and tries to forcibly remove the tenant from the property through a number of ways, including by threatening to call ICE.

Lynn tenant Rogelio Gonzalez (center) and organizers from housing group Lynn United for Change before his brief detention by ICE on Friday. (Photo by Susan Church)

“We are calling on ICE to not detain or deport Robelio, since his participation is critical to the investigation of the abusive landlord,” said organizers at Lynn United for Change. “His presence is also important to the prosecution of a criminal complaint against the landlord, which has been requested by the City of Lynn Inspectional Services Department.”

Advocates say it is not uncommon for immigrants to be afraid to speak up about building code violations out of concern for exactly this type of situation.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Healey’s office says it has signed off on a U-visa certification for Gonzalez, on Thursday, which is a document that allows for legal residency to victims of crimes who are cooperating with local or federal government investigations. A final decision on the visa is made by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which issues 10,000 such visas a year. Healey’s office said they occasionally have issued certifications when investigating or prosecuting a case where a victim of or a witness to the matter makes a request and meets the requirements for a U-visa. Church said this is the first time she’s heard of Healey doing this, which she hopes will help significantly in Gonzalez’s situation.

Church said after Gonzalez’s release on Friday that she is now hopeful for her client. “His asylum and U-visa cases now have a shot, since it’s hard to get those processed if you’re in custody,” she said.