Family reflects on New Brunswick man arrested in immigration raid
Editor's Note: Some information and quotes within this article were removed following publication in order to protect the integrity of a court case.
Anel Nieto can still hear the pounding on the door.
On Jan. 5, loud bangs awakened the 14-year-old and her mother, Maria Aguilar, 36, during the middle of the night. Mrs. Aguilar told Anel, her oldest daughter and one of the few English speakers in the household, to go downstairs and check out the noise.
The sound was a unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who informed Anel that they were looking for a man with the last name “Rodriguez.”
After being told there was no one inside by the last name "Rodriguez," the family says officers entered the home without a warrant and arrested 21-year-old German Nieto-Cruz, a Mexican native and undocumented city resident.
German Nieto-Cruz was then escorted out of the house through the back door from which the agents had initially entered.
For many family members, that was the last time they saw the 21-year-old.
A Son, Brother, Uncle and Co-Worker
Sitting on the living room couch, Antonino Nieto spoke of the family’s former home in Oaxaca, Mexico, and of their arrival in America when German Nieto-Cruz was 9 years old.
“He hasn’t done anything wrong. As far as we know, he isn’t out there stealing or killing,” he said.
At the time of the raid, German had prosecutorial discretion against deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative. He had used President Barack Obama’s executive actions to obtain a driver’s license and a work authorization, which he used to work with his father and brother at a tire shop in Edison, N.J.
Emma Cruz said German was a very caring and well-behaved son.
“He doesn’t deserve to be in this situation,” she said.
The mother regularly had to visit her son at his middle school in Piscataway and high school to take care of her son’s medical condition.
German Nieto-Cruz was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. The condition requires constant medical care and makes it difficult for him to eat and breathe. He has had periodic surgeries and was scheduled for another in March. His detention has delayed any further treatment.
Anel cherished the relatively small age difference she had with her uncle.
“He was like my older brother,” she said. “We were really close.”
Francisco Nieto-Cruz is certain his brother was targeted because of his long hair and tattoos. He described German Nieto-Cruz as a family man who had a special relationship with his nieces.
“German barely went out to parties or anything,” he said. “He would take my daughters with him to the movies or other places.”
Facebook Posts and a Buckle
In an explanation of Nieto-Cruz's arrest, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's New Jersey field office has said German is affiliated with a gang.
Since his arrest, the 21-year-old has been detained at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, N.J.
Alvin Phillips, a spokesman for the agency, said German is a “self-admitted member” of the Gran Familia Mexicana, a Mexican-American criminal street gang.
The agency refuted claims that they had conducted raids in New Jersey, and said officials had arrested a priority one individual, NJ Advance Media reported. Priority one cases are defined as those who pose a threat to national security through terrorism, gang activity, major felonies and border crossing, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Immigration advocates disagree and believe ICE has been conducting indiscriminate raids across the state.
The advocates say the agency is using the enforcement of United States law as a pretext to persecute undocumented immigrants.
“The government here in the United States is actually violating people’s human rights through the whole system of detentions (and) the whole system of separating families,” said Ellen Whitt, a member of the Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War.
Along with other immigration advocates and humanitarian groups, Whitt organized a demonstration in downtown New Brunswick on Jan. 30.
City residents, Rutgers University students and family members met at the intersection of George Street and Livingston Avenue to demand an end to deportations and called for German’s return home.
After his detention, one of German's attorneys says German received a notice from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services informing him that his deferred action – or DACA – had been annulled.
“If you have been approved for DACA, the minute that you get a notice to appear, the minute you are called into court for immigration, it is automatically revoked,” said Karol Ruiz, one of German’s attorneys.
Ruiz, who works for the firm Diaspora Law, said her client does not have any criminal record and is being detained on accusation alone. She said German is being held in a correctional facility instead of an immigrant detention center, though there were no criminal charges.
Community members and members of the group ICE Free NJ began an online petition calling for German’s release.
“(ICE does) not want to release him or lose the case because (German) exposed that raids are in fact taking place in New Jersey and that the agents are committing violations,” said Tereza Vivar, a local community organizer and executive director of Lazos America Unida.
German Nieto-Cruz's attorneys are arguing that he should be granted bond and exempt from deportation because he has not been convicted of a crime. The judge has opposed any bond, Ruiz said.
On April 13, the motion that was filed to reconsider the initial decision that negated his bond was denied by the judge. On a later court date, the judge also denied the motion to suppress and terminate his removal proceedings.
Ruiz appealed the decisions and the judge will now reconsider the bond motion, and the motion to suppress and terminate removal proceedings.
Because of the allegations against him, German is not eligible to reapply for deferred action under DACA. Ruiz said an application for humanitarian asylum was submitted on July 6.
German Nieto-Cruz remains detained by the immigration agency. His court date to determine if he can receive bond is not specified at this time.
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.