Letchworth arrest puts 'human face' on immigration issue - Catholic Courier
Jose Coyote and his wife Elizabeth Medina were recently reunited after Coyote was detained during a traffic stop. Jose Coyote and his wife Elizabeth Medina were recently reunited after Coyote was detained during a traffic stop.

Letchworth arrest puts ‘human face’ on immigration issue

MOUNT MORRIS — A weekend drive through Letchworth State Park has turned into an immigration nightmare for one migrant family.

José Coyote said that during a May 24 drive with his four children, he was pulled over by park police for driving too close to the curb. The police report, which was obtained by the diocesan Office of Migrant Ministry, states that Coyote was driving without a seat belt.

According to the police report, the arresting officer called in U.S. Border Patrol because of language barriers. Coyote was detained and sent to the Federal Detention Center in Batavia for "violation of entry into the United States without inspection," the police report says.

However, to the surprise of Coyote and of local advocates, he was released on $1,500 bond only a few weeks later.

"I see it now as a miracle from God," he said of his release. "One day, everything just changed. I was so happy. I went back to work and was able to once again hug my children."

As the country grapples with the crisis of unaccompanied children crossing the Texas-Mexico border, Coyote said he doesn’t understand the continued inaction on immigration reform.

President Barack Obama recently announced he will wait until after the November elections to take executive action on immigration reform, and advocacy groups have expressed disappointment and frustration.

Coyote added that the federal government has waited too long to provide justice for families like his.

"I came as a father to work and buy food for my children and give them a better life," he said. "If (the government) doesn’t want to adopt national reform, they should give us the privilege to keep working and let our children become good citizens and good people that help the community."

Coyote’s attorney, Anne Doebler of Buffalo, said that she is filing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement for prosecutorial discretion on his behalf. Prosecutorial discretion would allow Coyote to remain with his family in this country indefinitely, although he would be required to report to immigration officials either in person, by phone or by wearing an ankle bracelet, Doebler explained. He has been ordered to appear back in court in August 2015.

She agreed with Coyote’s assertion that prosecutorial discretion is not the way to address this national issue.

"It’s like a stop gap," Doebler said. "It’s a Band-Aid because (Congress) can’t get immigration reform done."

Coyote’s detention also illustrates that law enforcement agencies operate with two sets of rules for different people, asserted Tim McMahon, former director of Catholic Charities of Livingston County. McMahon, who is part of a newly formed group advocating for migrant workers like Coyote, said that following Coyote’s detention, he asked two different police agencies what would ordinarily happen if someone — a non-Hispanic or someone who was not be identified as Hispanic — was stopped for driving without a seat belt and could not produce a license.

"Both responses were identical," he said. "If no other extenuating circumstances, they would issue a summons. The person would come to court and pay a fine. And that would be the end of the episode."

The fact that Coyote’s traffic stop ended differently demonstrates what advocates nationwide have decried as a "serious blurring of the lines" between local police and Border Patrol, McMahon added.

"They (local police and Border Patrol) have distinctly different missions, and yet, as this case highlights, a decision was made to bring in Border Patrol when that was really unnecessary," McMahon remarked.

Doebler said that she is focused on Coyote’s application for prosecutorial discretion, so for the time being, she will not pursue any issues related to the traffic stop.

"But I always have an issue with local police calling Border Patrol for language services," she said. "Law enforcement agencies should have a contract with a language service company (for interpretation needs). There is no reason to call another police agency for interpreters. That always sounds (suspicious)."

Coyote has lived in the area for 14 years, and his four children are enrolled in the Mount Morris school district.

McMahon and Carly Fox of the Worker Justice Center noted that Coyote’s case helps to put a "human face" on this very complex issue and shows how his family now forms part of the fabric of his community.

"Let’s create an immigration policy that keeps families together," Fox said.

McMahon and Fox, along with diocesan migrant minister Penny Gardner and other local supporters have formed an advocacy group to inform the community and respond quickly with support, such as organizing petitions or protests if and when other migrant workers find themselves in a situation such as Coyote’s, McMahon said.

"Too often when we hear about, say, three workers picked up in Orleans County, for a few seconds we’ll say, ‘Too bad. We need to do something about reforming immigration in this country.’ Then go on with our lives," he said. "This guy is working hard, married, with four kids who are U.S. citizens. … Hopefully (his case) will lead to some movement (on immigration reform)."

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Editor’s Note: For more information on the newly formed advocacy group, contact Carly Fox at the Worker Justice Center at 585-325-3050.

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