Did political activity prompt immigrant's arrest?
Luis Candela Gonzalez's Facebook page is filled with photos of his favorite foods to cook. Sprinkled here and there, though, are pictures of him and his family attending rallies. A few are memes and messages advocating for immigration reform. In one, Candela Gonzalez stands with a fist in the air, embracing his wife and three daughters. They wear bright red T-shirts that say "Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee."
His family and supporters think his public activism is what got him detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
"There is definitely evidence in the ICE report ... that shows that ICE was looking at the family's social media accounts and making the connection to their participation in immigrant rights groups in the Twin Cities," said his attorney, Danielle Robinson Briand. "They were saying that information should serve as reasons not to grant him release from custody, because those groups are known to protect or shield immigrants from authorities."
Candela Gonzalez's case is one of several around the country in which the public activism of undocumented immigrants is suspected of having led to their arrests. High-profile cases in New York and Colorado have prompted protests.
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His family thinks his wife's activism may also have played a role. Candela Gonzalez was on his way into work at a restaurant in Arden Hills one January afternoon when he was stopped by immigration agents. Before they arrested him, he says, they asked: "Are you Sandra's husband?"
His wife, Sandra Gonzaga Perez, has been outspoken about what she says is racial discrimination against residents of her mobile home park in New Brighton. The manager, she said, has been towing the cars of residents of Mexican origin and threatening to call the police and ICE every time she believes they're doing something she doesn't approve of.
"She was going to call immigration and have them take all of us away, and she had a list of 20 people," Gonzaga Perez said through an interpreter. "And in the consequence of this, my husband was taken away."
In January, Gonzaga Perez helped organized a vigil to raise awareness about alleged discrimination in the mobile home park. At that time, organizers estimated about 14 people had been arrested by ICE, including residents, family members and former residents of the park.
"Because the vigil was very public and because it specifically called out ICE for targeting their community — and that was published in the Star Tribune newspaper a couple of days following the vigil — I think Sandra, Luis' wife, was put on ICE's radar," Robinson Briand said. "And they started to take interest in Luis."
Robinson Briand suspects ICE arrested Candela Gonzalez instead of his wife, who's also undocumented, because he has a felony burglary conviction from 2008, when he lived in Kansas. Gonzaga Perez has no felonies on her record. They have three daughters together, ages 15, 12 and 9, who are U.S. citizens.
Candela Gonzalez hasn't had any serious run-ins with the law since the 10-year-old conviction, his attorney said.
"And he's been a model citizen here in Minnesota," she said. "Unfortunately ICE, we believe, took action against Luis as a way to retaliate against Sandra for being so vocal about their aggressive enforcement actions against her community."
ICE officials say the agency does not target individuals, or retaliate against those who who have a stance on immigration issues.
"Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate," said Matthew Albence, an associate director of ICE enforcement and removal operations. "ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security."
Candela Gonzalez has been detained at Sherburne County Jail for about a month. In addition to fighting his case in federal court, the family has a pending complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights alleging discrimination based on race.
A GoFundMe page has raised more than $10,000 to help bail Candela Gonzalez out of detention. There have been numerous messages attesting to his character and his longtime effort to help people in need.
Despite the funds now available, the family has not been able to get Candela Gonzalez out of jail.
His immigration lawyer, Robinson Briand, is preparing to argue against the notion that his felony conviction makes him subject to mandatory custody. He makes his next court appearance Monday, March 5.