[StBernard] Hispanic residents decry officials' tactics

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Thu Dec 12 08:00:15 EST 2013

Hispanic residents decry officials' tactics

Special to The Advocate
December 11, 2013

On April 9, Matilde Gayosso heard tumult in the street in the 2800 block of
Pakenham Drive in Chalmette, where she was living with her husband, Juan
Pelcastre-Garrido, and four others.

The area, which is heavily populated by Hispanic residents, was being combed
by a task force composed of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents,
the Louisiana Fugitive Operations Team and St. Bernard Parish sheriff's

"They were literally hitting the doors of all the houses on the street," she
said through a translator Wednesday.

According to Gayosso, 35, agents entered her house without permission and
ransacked it.

In one of the rooms, they found three rifles, all of which she said were
unloaded and had been given to her husband and his friends as gifts for
helping a friend move.

Regardless, the men, all of whom are undocumented aliens, were arrested.

Pelcastre-Garrido, 40, was held in custody for eight months. He pleaded
guilty last week to one count of violating the Federal Gun Control Act for
being an undocumented alien in possession of a firearm.

He was sentenced to time served and will be transferred to the custody of
immigration officials and likely will be deported to Mexico, his native

On Wednesday, Gayosso, along with members of First Grace United Methodist
Church on Canal Street, held a news conference to protest the treatment of

"Juan's story is a simple, age-old story of those with power and authority
wielding it unlawfully against those who are powerless to stop it," said the
Rev. Shawn Anglim, who pastors the church. "Every Christian knows what the
gospel says about that."

With about 60 members of his congregation flanking him, Anglim railed
against Pelcastre-Garrido's arrest and the tactics of local immigration
officials, which he said too often separate law-abiding citizens from their

According to the Rev. Oscar Ramos, who also works at the church, more than
15 members of the congregation have been deported.

"I deal daily with families that have been broken because of a broken
system," he said.

Gayosso said she and Pelcastre-Garrido were caring for his 5-year-old niece,
whose mother was deported this year.

Ramos said the area where the couple lived is often targeted by authorities.

"It's a street of horror," he said, describing how the frequent appearances
of immigration agents have left residents rattled and fearful.

Wednesday's news conference was one of three events during the last month
protesting what immigration activists describe as a vigorous uptick in
enforcement in New Orleans.

On Nov. 17, 22 protesters were arrested near the U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement Office when they blocked traffic on Poydras and Loyola
streets to call attention to deportations they said were tearing families

Two weeks later, hundreds of Catholic nuns spearheaded a protest at Loyola
University, where they joined forces with other local activists in calling
for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

According to Jacinta Gonzalez, lead organizer for the Congress for Day
Laborers, ICE officials are conducting raids within Hispanic communities.
"They will go to grocery stores, laundromats and Bible studies," she said.

Gonzalez said Louisiana has some of the toughest immigration enforcement in
the country, in terms of both apprehension and deportation.

According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, 85.1
percent of rulings by immigration judges in Louisiana ordered non-citizens
deported in the past year. That is the nation's highest rate and dwarfs the
national average of 53 percent.

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, said the organization has a strict hierarchy
for enforcement proceedings, targeting "criminal aliens, recent border
crossers and egregious immigration law violators, such as those who have
been previously removed from the United States."

"As a matter of policy, ICE does not conduct indiscriminate sweeps," he

Cox said agents went to Pakenham Drive on the night Pelcastre-Garrido was
arrested as part of an investigation into criminal activity, but he could
not immediately elaborate further.

In court documents associated with his guilty plea, Pelcastre-Garrido signed
a "factual basis" stating that deputies were given consent to search his
home, though his attorney, Catharine Chavarri, had previously filed a motion
arguing otherwise.

He also acknowledged that he understood pleading guilty would likely result
in his deportation, something that will be decided by an immigration judge
in the near future.

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