Gov. Jay Inslee said that, during a phone conversation Thursday, acting ICE director Thomas Homan assured him that Baltazar “Rosas” Aburto Gutierrez was not detained for talking publicly about his girlfriend’s arrest by immigration agents.
Gov. Jay Inslee pressed the head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thursday for an explanation on the detention of a man who had recounted his longtime girlfriend’s arrest in a Seattle Times story about ramped-up immigration enforcement in Pacific County.
During the phone conversation, acting ICE Director Thomas Homan insisted that Baltazar “Rosas” Aburto Gutierrez was not the target of retaliation, Inslee said in an interview in which he expressed concern about the “chilling effect on free speech.”
Aburto Gutierrez, 35, who is facing deportation to his native Mexico after living in the U.S. illegally for nearly two decades, said an agent who took him into custody told him “You are Rosas. You are the one from the newspaper.”
He was not identified by name in the Nov. 9 Times article, although his nickname appeared in an August story in the Chinook Observer about his girlfriend’s arrest in June.
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Inslee said Homan told him that when ICE arrested the woman in the presence of Aburto Gutierrez, they learned of his status but didn’t arrest him so he could continue care of their children.
When ICE later determined the children no longer needed his care, according to Homan, they arrested Aburto Gutierrez, Inslee said.
The children had joined the girlfriend in Mexico after she was deported. Aburto Gutierrez said he had planned to join them next year after saving money from his longtime work digging clams.
But he was taken into custody Nov. 27 and is being held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma pending a Jan. 4 bond hearing.
Inslee, noting he didn’t automatically accept the ICE version, said he asked Homan to provide the information in writing.
Yakima attorney Stephen Robbins, who represents Aburto Gutierrez, said Thursday that Homan’s account reflects the narrative provided in an ICE fact sheet.
Robbins said ICE spent months monitoring his client, who had been in the country for many years with no criminal record.
“To me it’s clearly spin,” Robbins said. “This is not normal behavior on the part of ICE in my experience.”
Inslee similarly noted that Aburto Gutierrez had no criminal background and was employed and integrated into the community.
Inslee said he also expressed to Homan his concern that despite the Trump administration’s claim that it was focusing its immigration enforcement on criminals, there had been a dramatic increase in the number of noncriminals who had been arrested.
Homan responded that noncriminals weren’t being targeted, but were subject to deportation if encountered by ICE, Inslee said. Homan called it a change of circumstances, not policy, Inslee said.
Inslee said he also spoke of the “cloud of uncertainty” and anxiety hanging over those awaiting the uncertain fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which since 2012 has allowed young people brought to this country illegally to live and work here.
Homan voiced his belief that Congress will act to protect the young immigrants known as Dreamers, Inslee said.
Asked what would happen if Congress did not act, Homan related that ICE would not target those losing the protection, Inslee said.