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LI immigrant detained after stop for broken headlight freed

Felipe Iñiguez, a Central Islip resident who has lived illegally in the United States since 2001, had been in custody since Aug. 29 following the traffic stop in Lloyd Harbor, his lawyer says.

A Central Islip man who lives in the United States illegally and who was detained three months ago after a police stop for a burned-out headlight was freed Wednesday after a judge in Manhattan granted bond.  (Credit: Newsday / Shelby Knowles)

A Central Islip man who lives in the United States illegally and who was detained three months ago after a police stop for a burned-out headlight was freed Wednesday after a judge in Manhattan granted bond.

Judge Thomas Mulligan set bond of $4,000 in the case of Felipe Iñiguez on Wednesday morning at the Varick Street Immigration Court. Iñiguez, who is from Ecuador, was driving home in May after a day's work in Lloyd Harbor installing custom-made kitchen islands when village police stopped and ticketed him and alerted the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

"He'll be sleeping in his own bed tonight," Iñiguez's attorney, Eric Horn of Brentwood, said Wednesday night as his client was heading back to Long Island for a welcome home celebration.

Earlier, as the judge looked out into the gallery of the 11th-floor hearing room, where Iñiguez's wife, his sister, his sons and his ex-wife were among family present, Mulligan said: "He’s not a danger to the community. Strong family ties. Two, four, six, over 10 people in support."

The hearing lasted nine minutes, and his family left the proceeding smiling. His wife, Yeny, paid the bond Wednesday afternoon at a federal building in lower Manhattan and headed upstate to pick up Iñiguez from jail, Horn said.

At his sister’s home in Patchogue, hours from the jail, Iñiguez sampled South American dishes — his first meal since being freed — while surrounded by family Wednesday night. As he watched a soccer game from his native Ecuador, he said he was thankful to be back  on Long Island after months of detention.

He said he felt free at the impromptu celebration of his release. "I feel that there is hope again."

During his time in the Orange County jail in Goshen, New York, where he had been held since Aug. 29, he said he became depressed and was filled with doubt and despair. He tried to busy himself with productive activities, including playing chess with other detainees, and doing research in the law library to buttress his legal case.

He said his faith and his family — as well as his attorney — provided some relief until the judge ordered his release Wednesday.

Horn had asked the court to set a bond of $5,000; the minimum is $1,500 under federal rules.

In opposing bond, Department of Homeland Security lawyer Cassidy Crough noted that Iñiguez had failed to appear in connection with a case in which he was ordered deported in 2001, when he came here illegally; Horn countered that the notice went to the wrong address. Crough also said that the court record contained insufficient details about a 1993 guilty plea in Suffolk for driving while intoxicated. But Mulligan said he did not believe Iñiguez was a danger to the community, the legal standard for bond.

"The only scintilla of danger that I see in my file," the judge said, "is a 1993 conviction for DWI and nothing since." The circumstances of the DWI case "wouldn’t have been off the charts" because that judge allowed a guilty plea and a fine of $355, he said. Horn said Iñiguez's license was revoked for a few months and his client told him about the case only on Tuesday.

In granting bond, the judge also cited "glowing letters of support" and said Iñiguez was a pivotal figure in the lives of his sons and wife.

"His wife seems to have a significant hardship," including depression, the judge said.

Detained immigrants with cases before the court no longer appear in person but by video conference, as of June. Iñiguez could not appear on camera because of technical issues, and Horn waived Iñiguez's right to see his case live Wednesday.

Iñiguez, 49, was taken into custody about 100 days after Lloyd Harbor police pulled him over in May. Officers noticed a warrant stemming from a judge’s 2001 order and notified ICE, said Thomas Krumpter, the village police chief.

But the agency said it did not have a team to pick up Iñiguez, then directed the police to release Iñiguez, Krumpter said. Iñiguez fixed the light the same day and the ticket was rescinded, Horn said.

At the time of the traffic stop, Iñiguez had filed a petition for permanent legal residency based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen two years before, Horn said.

Iñiguez, who came to the United States illegally via Canada, has two sons on Long Island: Anthony, 22, a college student and legal resident in the process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, and Felipe, 17, who was born in the United States.

The region’s police forces maintain a patchwork of policies governing whether and under what circumstances the federal immigration agency is notified upon contact with a person who is in the country illegally.

In Suffolk, the county police policy is not to contact the federal agency unless a person is charged with a misdemeanor or felony — a policy identical to Nassau’s. But the Lloyd Harbor police force, which patrols the village in Suffolk, has no such policy.

Anthony Iñiguez, a Suffolk County Community College student who will be in its nursing program next semester, spoke Wednesday outside the building where his father's case was heard. He said he is elated that "they took my dad in like a regular person and didn't look at him like a criminal, which is something that I really respected."

"He's living proof," Iñiguez said, "that the government isn't that bad as we thought." 

With Zachary R. Dowdy

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