Friends rally behind Islander detained by INS
Vigorous support from Island friends and pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) may have helped a Uruguayan citizen living on the Vineyard to get over an immigration stumbling block in Boston.
Hector Garcia Fontes was arrested on Dec. 7, after traveling to Boston for a hearing to verify his marriage to Anna Lowell Garcia of Vineyard Haven. The couple had been waiting for immigration officials to schedule a hearing on the marriage petition since filing a request in May 2003. When the couple arrived in Boston two weeks ago for an interview, immigration officials canceled the hearing and took Mr. Fontes into custody. He is currently being held at the Suffolk House of Corrections.
Prior to his marriage and filing for a marriage petition, Mr. Fontes had been ordered to leave the country. He ignored the order so that his marriage petition could be heard first.
Mr. Fontes's lawyer, Harvey Kaplan, of Kaplan, O'Sullivan and Friedman, explained this week that if Mr. Garcia is deported before his marriage petition is heard, he will have no recourse for reentering the United States for at least 10 years.
Last week, Mr. Fontes's friends and family launched a campaign to pressure immigration officials to hear the marriage petition.
On Dec. 16, the ACLU wrote to the field office director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Boston: "This is a request for reconsideration of the decision to remove Mr. Fontes without adjudicating his wife's I-130 [marriage] petition."
Neither the ACLU nor Mr. Kaplan argued that Mr. Fontes should be allowed to remain in the country. However, they argued that his marriage petition should be heard before he is deported, so that he can file for a green card once he returns to Uruguay.
The letter from the ACLU continues, "While we recognize that the government has an interest in executing a lawful order of removal, we suggest that this interest must be balanced against the right of a United States citizen for fair consideration of her request to keep her family together."
In addition to the ACLU letter, Mr. Kaplan said that at least 40 people, mostly Islanders, have sent letters to state lawmakers pleading Mr. Fontes's case.
The community support and pressure from the ACLU, which threatened legal action, may have succeeded.
Tuesday, Ms. Garcia said that immigration officials had rescheduled her marriage petition hearing for yesterday.
She said she was thrilled by the support from the community and hoped that the marriage petition would help set the legal groundwork for Mr. Fontes to return lawfully to the U.S. in the future. "I am very happy, and very hopeful," said Ms. Garcia. "If everything goes through, this will give us the basis for getting him back in."
The outcome of the couple's marriage petition was not available as of press time yesterday. An ICE spokesperson in Boston could not be reached for comment.