NEW BRUNSWICK: Protesters gathered downtown Saturday to denounce immigration enforcement actions in the state, including a local man who they say is being falsely held as a result.
Earlier this month United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided a Lawrence Street home at 6 a.m. and took German Nieto-Cruz, 21-year-old resident.
“We are aware that ICE has been conducting raids across the county as well as New Jersey,” said Ellen Whitt, an organizer of the rally. “We wanted people to know we are against the raids, including the one here in New Brunswick that took German Nieto-Cruz.”
Advocates said Nieto-Cruz had a work permit to remain in the country and was on the straight and narrow. He was haphazardly rounded up in a new wave of announced immigration raids, the advocates said.
During the first weekend of raids in January, more than 100 undocumented immigrants, mainly woman and children who had surged across the Mexican border since 2014, were targeted for deportation across the country, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson said.
Although New Jersey was not included in the list of places that were targeted for enforcement actions, advocates said raids were occurring in the state and snagging people like Nieto-Cruz.
According to the family, ICE officers did not have warrants and broke down a backdoor to enter the home. They then allegedly pointed guns at women and children and pressed a boot against a family member’s face as he tried to calm his daughter down.
“I’m here fighting against ICE that’s deporting people in New Brunswick under false grounds,” said 20-year-old protester Rick Dillenberger, a Rutgers University student. “The dehumanizing way in which they conducted the raid, it’s traumatizing for the kids.”
Whitt was with the Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War, which has taken on the issue of immigrant rights. She said ICE was committing human rights violations during their raids.
Oscar Barbosa, an immigration lawyer with the firm Diaspora Law, said the high school graduate remains in an Essex County Jail after his bail hearing was denied this week. Diaspora Law, based in Elizabeth, represents Nieto-Cruz.
ICE agents allege that Nieto-Cruz is a member of the Gran Familia Mexicana, a New York City based street gang, due to religious tattoos and photos he shared and liked on Facebook, said Barbosa.
“Immigration officers showed the judge he had tattoos and some photos that were on Facebook,” said Barbosa.
Barbosa said besides Nieto-Cruz not having a criminal record and being gainfully employed at a local tire shop, records show the gang doesn’t exist in the area.
Formal charges against Nieto-Cruz have not been charged.
Alvin Phillips, an ICE spokesman for New Jersey would not give specifics on the case.
“His bail was denied and the legal process continues,” Phillips said Saturday. “He was detained for being a priority one case.”
Priority one cases are considered threats to national security, public safety or border security.
Nieto-Cruz’s legal team has filed appeal for bond, as well as an appeal against the search, according to Barbosa.
While stories like Nieto-Cruz’s have quieted across the state since enforcement actions were announced by Secretary Johnson, advocates say they are still occurring.
“In Bridgeton they took two men in the middle of the street in front of their kids this week,” said Rita Dentino, of Casa Freehold. “Something happens and it quiets down but something happens again.”
Teresa Vivar, founder of Lazos America Unida, said she wants New Jersey to commit to further protections of immigrant rights like it’s neighbor.
This week Pennsylvania announced it would close one of its immigration detention centers that had been a target of activists.
“We want New Jersey to follow,” Vivar said Saturday.
Nieto-Cruz’s family was at the rally.
“She talks to him on the phone when she can,” said Nieto-Cruz’s sister-in-law Maria of his mother. “She cries all the time and doesn’t eat.”