In immigrant crackdown, a 'fine-tuned' police state

Arresting Honduran barber in Baltimore does not make American safe.

"This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine," said the president of the United States, and I offer as supporting evidence the arrest in Baltimore of the Honduran barber and bicycle repairman Serbando Fernandez Rodriguez.

Without the Trump administration's bold directives to increase immigration enforcement, 35-year-old Rodriguez might have continued minding his own business. He might have still been cutting hair in Highlandtown and, God forbid, he might have continued teaching teenagers how to fix bikes.

Be grateful, my fellow Americans: Donald J. Trump has made us safer from the likes of Serbando Rodriguez. Agents of the federal government have stripped him of his straight razor and combs, his pedal wrench and his tire levers.

And now, this menace to society faces deportation to his native Honduras, a country with some of the world's highest murder rates over the last seven years.

Rodriguez once owned a barbershop in La Ceiba, the country's third-largest city, a northern port on the Gulf of Honduras. La Ceiba is so violent the State Department included it in an updated warning to travelers as recently as last month:

"Criminals, acting both individually and in gangs, in and around certain areas of Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba engage in murder, extortion and other violent crimes. ... With one of the highest murder rates in the world and criminals operating with a high degree of impunity, U.S. citizens are reminded to remain alert at all times when traveling in Honduras."

The violence in and around San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba drove thousands of Honduran children out of the country, north through Mexico and into Texas and other states. Since that flood of refugees three years ago, the Obama administration invested foreign aid in crime prevention in Honduras, and that effort has led to drops in both homicides and migration.

Still, Honduras remains one of Central America's most troubled nations. And the State Department placed La Ceiba among the most violent areas of the country, with a rate of killings above the national average.

But barring a successful appeal before an immigration judge, the Trump administration is ready to ship the barber and bicycle repairman Rodriguez back there.

Violence is what drove Rodriguez into the United States five years ago, at the height of the killing, according to Nick Katz, senior manager of legal services for the immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland. Katz, serving as Rodriguez's attorney, interviewed him at the Frederick County Detention Center on Thursday. Rodriguez was being held there after his arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents early on the morning of Feb. 9.

According to Katz, Rodriguez was a successful barber in La Ceiba — so successful that a local gang demanded he pay them protection money. For a time, Rodriguez paid "la renta," but when he had trouble meeting the gang's extortionate demands, some of its members beat Rodriguez, leaving a scar on his face. They killed his dog. They threatened to kill Rodriguez and his family.

That's when he decided to leave La Ceiba and Honduras, he told Katz. It was June 2012. Rodriguez sent his family away — it is not known where — and he headed north to the United States. According to CASA, Rodriguez was nabbed by American immigration agents and sent back to Honduras. But, still fearing for his life, he made a successful breach of the U.S. border, traveled to Baltimore and settled in Highlandtown.

Over the last five years, he found work as a barber at a shop on Conkling Street. He also became known as a go-to bicycle mechanic who enjoyed teaching teenagers how to make their own repairs.

It wasn't until this month, after the "fine-tuned machine" of the Trump administration stepped up immigration enforcement, that ICE agents went after Rodriguez. Two of them, dressed in what Rodriguez described to Katz as "police vests," stopped him, asked him for identification, then asked if he had a green card. When Rodriguez could not produce one, he was arrested.

Katz called the stop of Rodriguez by ICE agents "constitutionally deficient," and an overreach of the Trump administration's stepped-up efforts to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records. Rodriguez, he said, has committed no crimes.

Asked what prompted Rodriguez's arrest, an ICE spokesman said it resulted from "targeted enforcement based on investigative leads." Rodriguez faces deportation "for illegally reentering the United States after a previous deportation."

The man feared for his life, and we sent him back. And apparently, we will force him back there again. The man cuts hair and fixes bikes, and we send federal agents out at 1 a.m. on a Thursday to tail him and grab him? That doesn't sound like America. That sounds like a "fine-tuned" police state.

drodricks@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
45°