The ACLU of Pennsylvania is suing the federal government over the ongoing detention of a gay man who fled Mexico after facing threats over his sexual orientation.
ICE agents arrested Jose “Ivan” Nuñez Martinez in January, as he and his husband, Paul Frame, a U.S. citizen, were at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services taking steps toward applying for a green card. The couple lives in Chester County, where Frame works at a restaurant and Nuñez Martinez works at a garage.
At a press conference to announce the lawsuit Tuesday, Frame choked up when talking about visiting Nuñez Martinez in immigration detention at York County Prison.
“There’s really nothing up at the prison for him to do. He sits there, every day, thinking what the next step’s going to be in his life,” said Frame.
Attorney Golnaz Fakhimi, along with the law firm DLA Piper, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, requesting a federal judge hold a hearing on whether Nuñez Martinez should continue to be held.
“Ivan’s detention is a good example of unlawful and unjust action on the part of immigration authorities,” said Fakhimi. In general, it is unconstitutional to imprison those on U.S. soil without granting a hearing before a judge about the necessity of that detention; that right is not always applied to immigrants.
Nuñez Martinez, 37, is originally from Michoacán, Mexico and first came to the United States in 2001 by surreptitiously crossing the border. In court documents, his attorneys said Nuñez Martinez fled after a closeted friend of his was killed after rumors of that man’s sexuality surfaced. Nuñez Martinez had received threats after showing public affection to another man at a party.
In 2010, he traveled back to Mexico to visit his mother, who was sick. Border patrol agents apprehended Nuñez Martinez when he tried to return to the United States, ordering his rapid deportation through a process called “expedited removal.”
Nuñez Martinez did cross back into the United States, but that prior deportation hangs over his current immigration case. While he passed what’s called a “credible fear” interview — meaning a U.S. official determined he qualifies for withholding of removal based on fear of persecution in his home country — he needs to clear additional hurdles to remain in the U.S.
ICE officials declined to comment on pending litigation. “ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the agency said in a statement. “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
“This is an exemplary case of a man who is being detained with absolutely no reason,” said immigration attorney Audrey Allen, adding that because he has an ongoing case and does not pose a flight risk, his detention is unnecessary. Supporters of Nuñez Martinez have asked the public to call ICE and demand his release.
Frame, who recently moved into a townhome in Elverson, Pa., said their shared life is on pause while his husband remains behind bars.
“It’s a lonely feeling, you know, moving into the house, and he’s not there,” said Frame. “There’s certain things I want to do, but I’m waiting for him.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Correction: The radio version of this story (above) incorrectly explains Nuñez Martinez’s current immigration case. He is seeking what’s called “withholding of removal” based on a fear that he could face death or violence if deported.