Deported farm worker files civil rights suit vs. troopers

Gwen Chamberlain

A civil rights lawsuit against three New York State Troopers has been filed in U.S. District Court by Marcario Gilberto Reyes-Herrera, a man who worked on Penn Yan area farms for many years, but was deported to Mexico after a traffic stop in 2017.

Reyes-Herrera is represented by a group from the University of Buffalo School of Law — Supervising Attorney Nicole Hallett, and three student attorneys.

In court documents that were filed in early April, Reyes-Herrera is seeking compensatory and punitive damages determined by a jury.

Reyes-Herrera says he was arrested unlawfully by officers Jason Flaitz and Barbara Crosby at the direction of Sergeant Marci Trimble June 29, 2017 when he was a passenger in a truck, traveling to work.

The court document says the officers “blatantly disregarded” an executive memorandum which forbids state officers from using resources to detect and apprehend aliens suspected or wanted merely for violating civil immigration offenses. That memorandum states that an officer does not have the authority to inquire into a passenger’s immigration status during a traffic stop unless there is reason to believe the passenger is involved in criminal activity.

“The only thing the state troopers knew about him was the color of his skin and that he spoke Spanish; they had absolutely no probable cause on which to base the arrest” said Erin Barry, a student attorney working on the case in a statement released by the legal team.

The complaint document says Flaitz stopped the truck in which Reyes-Herrera was riding with two co-workers because the driver was not wearing a seatbelt. Flaitz issued tickets to the driver and the other passenger, who also was not wearing a seatbelt. When the trooper asked the two passengers for identification, Reyes-Herrera said he left his drivers license at home, and he did not disclose his immigration status.

Reyes-Herrera says although the officers had no evidence of illegal activity when they arrested him, the incident report filed by Flaitz labeled the incident “Immigration - Non-criminal investigation.”

The troopers took him to the State Police barracks in Dundee, where he says he suffered severe emotional distress. While there, he called his son to come pick him up. As he was leaving the trooper barracks, he was confronted by Customs and Border Patrol Agent Julio Leon-Gonzalez, who arrested him after he admitted he did not have legal status in the United States.

Reyes-Herrera was deported to Mexico in January 2018 after being in custody since June 29, 2017. He says he is unable to find work. The court complaint says his three children in the U.S. have been struggling emotionally and financially in his absence, that he has suffered emotional distress, and he wants to reunite with his family.

Reyes-Herrera and his wife came to the United States more than 20 years ago. He was first detained by immigration officials near Dresden in 2000, and eventually deported to Mexico in 2006, leaving his wife and three children behind. The children are natural-born U.S. citizens. He eventually crossed the border for a second time with the help of a smuggler so he could return to his family.

“I crossed the border to escape poverty and provide a better life for my family. For over 20 years, I have lived and worked in the United States,” said Reyes-Herrera. “Now, I am separated from my family for the next 20 years because this country has labeled me as a criminal. All I wanted was to provide a future for my children.”

Community Support/Events

Reyes-Herrera’s arrest spurred a community activism effort in an attempt to let him remain in the United States. Now, the efforts of the community group are focused on a campaign to get New York State Attorney General Letitia James to open an investigation into the arrest.

The Penn Yan Action Coalition will host a presentation by Shirley Way and Cathy Mullarney from 4 to 5:30 p.m. May 9 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 179 Main St., Penn Yan. They will explain why people from Central America are seeking asylum in the U.S. Way is a Quaker who has traveled to El Salvador and Honduras as part of Friends Peace Teams to meet peacekeepers and facilitate Alternatives to Violence Project workshops. Mullarney will speak about learning and relationships in El Salvador.

FLX Solidarity Network, an immigrant ally organization, is hosting a community forum featuring Dr. Nicole Simpson, professor of Economics at Colgate University, who will discuss the economic benefits and promise of immigration for the Finger Lakes at 7 p.m. April 29 at Trinity Place, 78 Castle St., Geneva.