Dozens of immigrant advocates rallied Wednesday outside police and county headquarters in Nassau County to protest the recent deportation of a Salvadoran immigrant detained after a traffic stop and to denounce local cooperation with immigration enforcement.
The case stems from an Aug. 7 traffic stop by Nassau police of Denis Guerra Guerra in Roosevelt after he had failed to signal, advocates said. Though Guerra Guerra didn’t have a criminal record, police found a pending deportation order and handed him over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Guerra Guerra, 30, a baker who lived in Hempstead and was a leader at a youth program in his church, was held at detention facilities in New Jersey, Manhattan and Louisiana before he was flown back to El Salvador on Aug. 23. He had lived in Nassau County for 11 years, immigrant advocates and relatives said.
The treatment of Guerra Guerra has outraged the advocates, who said Nassau police went back on promises of not pursuing people solely for immigration offenses. Doing so, they said, undermines trust in police in immigrant communities.
“I, as so many of you, have been in the meetings with Nassau County P.D., where their officials publicly and repeatedly assured us that, in the case of traffic stops, undocumented immigrants do not need to fear contact with Nassau County police officials, but unfortunately for Denis that was a lie,” said Elise Damas, an advocate with the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead.
According to police, the incident leading to Guerra Guerra’s deportation was more complicated, though the department did not specify that he faced any criminal charge.
Acting Police Commissioner Patrick J. Ryder, in a statement Wednesday, said Guerra Guerra was operating an unregistered vehicle from Illinois, could not produce a driver’s license and presented a passport from El Salvador as identification — prompting further inquiries that led police to find ICE’s detention request relating to his illegal entry into the United States.
Ryder’s statement said Guerra Guerra was employed illegally at a business in Massapequa, was using a Social Security number for a California resident, and was using an alien identification number of a New Jersey resident. Immigration agencies assign such ID numbers to legal immigrants and those petitioning for legal status.
Guerra Guerra was in possession of a razor blade knife but was not charged because that was not a criminal offense, the acting commissioner’s statement said.
“Regardless of a person’s legal status, all persons in Nassau County are required to abide by the local, state and federal laws currently in effect,” Ryder said. “The Nassau County Police Department will not inquire into any person’s immigration status unless they are arrested for a crime.”
However, advocates said the handling of the case could signal a policy change that would send tremors through the immigrant community — especially at a time when President Donald Trump espouses aggressive immigration enforcement.
“In the moment that Nassau County P.D. put those handcuffs on Denis’ wrists, they stopped being Nassau County P.D. and became self-deputized ICE agents,” Damas said.
More than 40 people gathered for the rally outside police headquarters in Mineola and marched to the county building about a block away. Teary-eyed relatives and friends joined them.
“My brother is a good brother, a good son, and I am devastated by what happened,” his sister Ruth Arely Guerra Guerra, 33, of Amityville, said in Spanish. “We don’t come here to do harm. We come here to build a better future.”
His fiancée, Angela Sosa, 25, of Hempstead, choked up thinking about how he was locked up and moved from jail to jail.
“Why are they trampling on us like that?” she said in Spanish. “We’re human beings. We’re not criminals.”
At one point, the crowd chanted: “We are not Maricopa,” referring to the Arizona county where ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio gained national prominence for local enforcement of immigration law and punitive treatment of those detained.
Cheryl Keshner, an advocate on language-access issues, blamed outgoing County Executive Edward Mangano for not doing more to embrace immigrant-friendly policies and letting the police department enforce federal detention requests.
“It’s coming from across the street there, from the county executive’s office,” she said, pointing to the administration building that fronts on Franklin Avenue.
Deputy County Executive Ed Ward later issued a statement saying, “The issue of Mr. Guerra’s arrest and any adjudication of his legal status is entirely within the jurisdiction of the Nassau County Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.”
ICE did not respond to an inquiry about the case.