If you haven’t yet done so, you need to read Ryan Deto’s excellent cover story this week about the government’s attempt to convict and deport Pittsburgh resident Martin Esquivel-Hernandez.
Did you read it? Are you outraged? You should be, and so should every other Pittsburgher. The U.S. government is trying to deport one of our own, and no one should take it lying down. His family, friends and the city’s Latino community are starting a campaign to get him released, and every one of us — from average citizens to elected officials — needs to get involved.
Esquivel-Hernandez has lived in the city for about four years with his family. He’s an undocumented immigrant who in order to be with that family tried five times to enter this country. Four times, he was caught and deported; the fifth time was a charm. He made his way here, where he has lived and worked ever since.
Actually, the words “lived and worked” is short-selling what this man has been doing since his arrival. He is very active in this city, working to improve life for the growing Latino community. He has served on committees; he has marched and protested against unfair federal immigration policies; and he has been an open advocate for better services for Latino children in the city schools.
But on May 2, one day after proudly marching in a parade for immigrants’ rights, Esquivel-Hernandez was picked up by immigration officials and has been caught in the federal court and immigration systems ever since. He has been driven around the state from one crappy jail facility to the next, between York, Pa., and Youngstown, Ohio. Why? Because the U.S. Attorney’s office has decided he’s an “illegal alien,” according to a press release last month announcing his indictment on federal re-entry charges.
What an insult. What an oversimplification of a situation based on broken and backward immigration law. They say he’s here illegally. They say he’s not one of us because he’s from Mexico. They couldn’t be more wrong. Martin Esquivel-Hernandez might not be a documented resident of the United States, but he’s a well-documented resident of this city and that has to count for something.
He has worked hard to build up and protect Pittsburgh’s Latino community. Despite the fear of deportation, he has lived his life mostly in the open. He has attended events; he has gone to his kids’ school functions; and when something in his community is unjust, he works to fix it. When other undocumented workers were getting ripped off by their boss on a construction job, Esquivel-Hernandez sought out local Latino labor leader Guillermo Perez for help.
He could have kept his mouth shut. He could have just put his head down and kept working out of fear that if he spoke up, someone would turn him in. He’d be sent back to his Mexico City neighborhood, a place so plagued by gang violence that he and his wife fled for the betterment of their children. But he didn’t keep his mouth shut; he did the right thing. According to the people who know him best, that’s what he does.
He’s a good man. He’s a good Pittsburgher and he needs our help. He needs Mayor Bill Peduto to get involved. He needs progressive Pittsburgh City Councilors like Natalia Rudiak, Dan Gilman and Bruce Kraus to get involved. He needs help from U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey. He needs community leaders and neighborhood advocates to rush to his side. U.S. attorney David Hickton needs to know that Martin Esquivel-Hernandez isn’t an undocumented immigrant or an “illegal alien.” He’s not some generic, government-labeled stereotype. They call him an “illegal alien” because identifying immigrants that way is an attempt to make you think of undocumented immigrants as something less than human, something you wouldn’t mind throwing out of the country in mass numbers.
He may be undocumented, but in four years he’s proven that he’s a legal, documented Pittsburgher. He doesn’t have a green card, but he sure as hell has earned a black-and-gold card, and that has to stand for something. He doesn’t just deserve our help; as a member of this community, he has earned it.
Martin Esquivel-Hernandez has spent his time in Pittsburgh serving this community. It’s time to return the favor.