GADSDEN, Ala. (WBRC) - The arrest of an immigrant rights leader in Alabama has sparked a protest in Gadsden.
The group “Shut Down Etowah” protested Friday morning against the arrest of Marcos Baltazar and his son Juan.
Marcos Baltazar is a labor leader and board member of the group Adelante Alabama Worker Center.
Organizers say the Baltazars are being held in the ICE facility at the Etowah County Dentention Center, after being arrested during a routine check-in at the Birmingham ICE office.
They say the father and son fled Guatemala for a better life in the United States.
“He’s fleeing the economic, social, structural violence and crime that is in his country, and that’s why he’s come across the border. And at any point, the ICE or people that are here, could simply let him go, he does not have to be in this cage,” Luis Robledo told the crowd before the march started.
The march went in front of the Etowah County Courthouse and the William H. Rhea Judicial Building before marching around the Etowah County Detention Center a few times. ICE detainees are kept on the top two floors. The group has said numerous times over the years the Etowah facility is the worst run of its kind in the country. Robledo says detainees don't have access to an outside yard, that cells and even common areas are crowded, and that the food is barely edible. Members of the group say there have been no improvements since Todd Entrekin left the sheriff's office and Jonathon Horton took over.
One group member warned the rest of possible arrests. At one point a group of deputies, including Chief Deputy Mitchell Hill, backed the protesters out of the sheriff's office parking lot.
ICE regional spokesperson Bryan Cox told WBRC Friday afternoon the two had not been detained during the past three years because Marcos Baltazar was considered the only parent of a minor child, Juan, as long as they reported on a regular basis. The two had crossed after Marcos’ wife died giving birth to stillborn twins. Cox confirmed the appointment yesterday at the Birmingham ICE office was a standard reporting appointment. It was determined Juan had just turned 18 and under U.S. law, was no longer considered a minor child, so that was why they were taken into custody. Cox maintains the two were in the country illegally.
Cox says if ICE makes a determination to continue detention, the two will likely be transferred to Louisiana. They still have a right to a bond hearing before a federal immigration judge.