A Pacific County man arrested by immigration officials after an interview with The Seattle Times expects to be released Friday. An immigration judge lowered his bond from $25,000 to $5,000, saying the longtime U.S. resident and shellfish worker presents no danger to the public.
An immigration judge Thursday sharply reduced the bond for Baltazar “Rosas” Aburto Gutierrez, whose November detention by immigration-enforcement officials attracted international attention because of concern he was being retaliated against for speaking to the news media.
Judge Charles McCullough set the bond at $5,000, down from $25,000.
Aburto Gutierrez has money to pay and expects to do so Friday, said his lawyer, Stephen Robbins, after a courtroom hearing at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, where the 35-year-old Mexican immigrant is being held.
When he delivers the bond, he will be released and plans to return to his Pacific County home, Robbins said.
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“He’s very relieved and very happy,” the attorney said of his client.
At the hearing, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorney Neil Floyd asked the judge to set no bond at all, which would require Aburto Gutierrez be kept at the detention center. He has no legal avenue to avoid deportation because his two daughters, who are U.S. citizens, are in Mexico with their mother, Floyd argued.
But Robbins said his client has a strong case for a type of relief available to longtime residents of the United States like Aburto Gutierrez, whom the attorney said has lived in this country for 16 years. Aburto Gutierrez has two children who are U.S. citizens, and his detention is causing a particular hardship for one of the girls, who has a stomach problem that sometimes keeps her out of school, Robbins said.
A worker in Pacific County’s thriving shellfish industry, Aburto Gutierrez was sending money to Mexico to pay for the girl’s medical care and other family needs.
The girls were visiting their mother temporarily, according to Robbins, a point remarked upon by the judge. “But for Aburto Gutierrez being detained, the children would have returned?” McCullough asked.
In his oral ruling, the judge noted that Aburto Gutierrez will now be able to apply for legal status.
McCullough also said he did not find the Pacific County man to be a danger to the public. Aburto Gutierrez has no criminal record.
The judge said he was giving diminished weight to an allegation in ICE’s arrest report, linked to a July tip from the public, that Aburto Gutierrez used methamphetamine.
The Pacific County man “vehemently denies” the accusation, Robbins said, and the ICE officers who wrote the report did not supply evidence or refer the matter to police.
It was not until four months after that tip, in the early morning of Nov. 27, that ICE officers arrested Aburto Gutierrez. Recounting the arrest by phone from the detention center this past month, the shellfish worker said he had just gotten off work and was heading to Okie’s Thriftway Market in Ocean Park for coffee and eggs.
“You are the one from the newspaper,” he said an ICE officer told him after seeing Aburto Gutierrez drive in.
He concluded that ICE was retaliating against him for talking to The Seattle Times about the earlier arrest of his longtime girlfriend by ICE officers posing as piñata buyers.
In a phone call last week, Gov. Jay Inslee told acting ICE Director Thomas Homan he was worried about the “chilling effect on free speech.”
The Mexican consulate in Seattle also has expressed concern, and Aburto Gutierrez’s arrest was covered by Mexican newspapers and TV networks.
Homan, however, said retaliation was not the reason for Aburto Gutierrez’s arrest. ICE officers had met him in June as they arrested his girlfriend and turned over the couple’s children to his care, the acting director said. By November, officers realized the children had left for Mexico to be with their mother and no longer needed Aburto Gutierrez’s care, Homan said.
That information came in as another tip Nov. 16, according to the ICE arrest report, which makes no mention of the Nov. 9 Times story in which Aburto Gutierrez’s account of his girlfriend’s arrest appears. The story reported on ramped-up ICE enforcement in Pacific County and its impact on residents, including those who voted for President Donald Trump.
Soon after, two ICE officers set up surveillance at Okie’s, knowing that Aburto Gutierrez usually came to the store every day between 7:30 and 8 a.m., according to the arrest report. They got their man at 7:50.
A small group of Pacific County immigration activists drove to Tacoma to support Aburto Gutierrez at his hearing.
“This is good news,” said one, Stephanie Serrano, of the lowered bond. “Five (thousand dollars) is way better than 25,” she said. She noted a gofundme campaign for Aburto Gutierrez and his family has raised $3,000.
Yet Robbins had to talk to his client after the hearing about whether he should pay the bond and be released. Those in detention typically get their cases heard in Tacoma within weeks or months — after which they might get a green card — whereas other locals in deportation proceedings have their cases referred to the backed-up immigration court in Seattle. A resolution might take as long as six years, Robbins said.
Aburto Gutierrez didn’t waste much time in deciding. “He just wants out,” Robbins said.