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Back in Business (for Now)

Saugerties restaurant owners get temporary reprieve from deportation orders

by Steve Yoder on March 10, 2010

Stay of deportation: Saugerties-based restaurateurs Emilio and Analia Maya.

To the relief of friends and patrons, the owners of the Tango Café in Saugerties have been granted temporary stays of deportation. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency granted Emilio Maya a stay of one year, and an immigration judge granted a stay of his sister Analia Maya’s deportation for at least seven months.

As reported in Metroland [“Immigrants’ Dilemma,” Feb. 18], the Mayas, who had been undocumented immigrants, worked as informants for ICE from 2005 to 2009 in exchange for the agency’s promise of “legal status.” The agency issued them work permits in 2006 but told them last June that the permits would be revoked because ICE was moving its operations to Newburgh. The pair enlisted the help of U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-Saugerties) and, in August, Hinchey began communicating with the agency about their case.

Then on Nov. 17, ICE agents detained and attempted to summarily deport Emilio Maya; his deportation was stayed for 90 days after Hinchey intervened. The same day her brother was detained, ICE scheduled a March 5 removal hearing for Analia Maya in immigration court.

On Feb. 5, Hinchey introduced a rare private bill in Congress that, if passed, would allow the Mayas to obtain visas. The bill’s introduction apparently was the chief reason ICE granted the stay of Emilio Maya’s deportation. And at Analia Maya’s March 5 court hearing, immigration judge Robert Weisel granted a continuation of her case until Sept. 10 to allow time for the fate of Hinchey’s bill to be determined.

After receiving the stay from ICE on Feb. 19, Emilio Maya told the Kingston Daily Freeman, “I can’t describe how I feel. There is such happiness in my heart. All our grief, you forget it in a second with news like this.” Following her hearing on March 5, Analia Maya said that she felt really good because “we need time.”

But the Mayas’ recent victories are only a reprieve. According to Hinchey’s chief of staff Jeff Lieberson, in the current political climate, it will be “very, very difficult to get the representative’s bill through the entire House.”

It’s also impossible for the Mayas to return to life as it was before last November. Because Emilio Maya is under an order of supervision, he must report to the ICE field office in Manhattan every few months. When Maya did so on March 1, the hearing officer told him that his circumstances are irrelevant and that his only chance to avoid deportation in February 2011 will be to have ICE assist him in obtaining an S-visa. Known on the street as “snitch visas,” these are granted to undocumented immigrants who assist law-enforcement agencies in prosecuting crime or terrorism.

Under the law, an immigrant may be considered for an S-visa if he or she shares information with a law enforcement agency about a criminal enterprise that is essential to an agency investigation or prosecution. The undercover missions that the Mayas describe having done for ICE—including infiltrating drug, gang and human-smuggling operations—would appear to fit that requirement, and the Mayas say that their ICE handlers praised their undercover work.

But ICE has shown no indication that it is willing to sponsor the Mayas for S-visas, despite their years of service. And the Mayas recently discovered that the agency may never have had any intention of granting them permanent legal status. The removal-hearing document with which Analia Maya was served last November is dated Oct. 18, 2006, only a few weeks after the Mayas began working on the riskiest assignments for ICE, a piece of information that Judge Weisel said during Analia Maya’s hearing he found “interesting.” It appears that ICE was preparing for the Mayas’ removal at the very time that they were putting their lives on the line for the agency—suggesting a lack of willingness to ever grant them legal status.

Recent media reports have documented that ICE took a similar approach in managing dozens of other undocumented informants. A Feb. 12 Los Angeles Times article, for example, reported that the agency is attempting to deport Salvadoran informant Ernest Gamboa, who complained when the agency stopped paying him last year. According to the office of Sen. Maria Cantwell [D-Wash.], Gamboa’s work for ICE resulted in at least 90 drug busts. ICE spokesman Brandon Alvarez Montgomery did not respond to Metroland’s request for information about how many informants ICE sponsored for S-visas last year or the criteria the agency use to determine when to assist an informant in obtaining an S-visa.

At least one national immigrant-rights group is criticizing ICE’s treatment of informants. On Feb. 16, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders—representing 20,000 evangelical churches in 34 states—passed an emergency resolution demanding that Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano “make public the criteria that immigration agents use to recruit informants.” The resolution also calls on Congress to hold hearings in which informants can describe their work and how they were treated by the agency.

If that happens, Emilio and Analia Maya’s story could become a case study of whether changes are needed in ICE policies toward informants.