LOS ANGELES — Osny Eduardo Sorto, a 24-year-old DACA holder living in a middle-class suburb of Los Angeles, thought he was opening the door for police officers who told him they were looking for a dangerous identity thief, when he was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers on the morning of October 2.
“First they said they were police. Then when he opened the door, they identified themselves as ICE. They told him he was flagged as a high-risk offender,” Chance Kidd, Sorto’s 26-year-old fiancé, described to Latino Rebels. “The officers told him he had ‘multiple DUI’s’ and that they were going to deport him despite his DACA status. But he told them they were wrong.”
Sorto did have a misdemeanor DUI from an arrest in April for which he served one day in jail, but his family and attorneys point to the fact that his record was otherwise clean and that at the time of his arrest he was the sole breadwinner for his mother and siblings, working as a nursing assistant.
“He has now been detained for more than 40 days and we’ve been fighting to stop the order of removal,” Kidd said. “Unfortunately, he has not been getting the prescription for HIV prevention, which he takes daily. He works in the medical field with HIV-positive patients and also fears being exposed in jail. He also has not been treated for a broken retainer he has in his mouth that could do him serious damage. His pleas to doctors there had gone unheeded.”
Attorneys in Los Angeles this week filed an emergency motion for a stay of removal in front of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which was immediately granted, but Sorto’s case illustrates once more the aggressive all-out campaign to deport anyone and everyone that ICE can get their hands on, as soon as they make a single mistake.
Kidd also questioned the way that ICE agents pretended to be police officers and told Sorto’s family that they needed to talk to him because someone was stealing his identity and they wanted his cooperation.
They showed up on October 2 at 7 a.m. in the complex where the family lives and “sneaked in” when a car opened a gate to arrest him, he said.
In arresting Sorto, ICE was enforcing a previous order of removal issued by a judge when the young man was 10 years old. Sorto came the United States from his native Honduras when he was 9 with an aunt, cousin and a younger brother. They were arrested and given orders to appear in front of a judge.
Attorneys argue that his mother could not take him to a hearing in Texas (she lived in Los Angeles) because she was bedridden with a risky pregnancy.
“We argued that the original judge failed to grasp that a 10-year-old has no ability to attend court if his parent doesn’t take him,” said Sabrina Damast, Sorto’s immigration attorney in Los Angeles. “Also, we argue that conditions for the LGBT community in Honduras have significantly worsened, such that Osny’s case should be reopened so he can apply for asylum.”
The BIA agreed to grant an emergency stay of deportation for Sorto.
Sorto’s partner and attorneys say that, in spite of his recent mistake, Sorto is a model for his community who was able to finish high school and study nursing, and who supports his mother, two siblings and three other children in her care.
“They were trying to deport him on the same day he was arrested,” Kidd said. “The first attorney we hired didn’t do a good job and his appeal was denied.”
Attorneys are also alleging that his arrest is illegal, because Sorto is a DACA holder and the government has not bothered to go through the formal process of stripping him of the status before putting him on deportation, the normal procedure.
Sorto got DACA when he was 18 years old, and has renewed the status ever since, with an expiration date of 2019, his partner said.
According to the documents filed with the BIA, all of Sorto’s family is the country legally. His mother, María Vásquez Ramos, holds a permit under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Two of his siblings are citizens and one has DACA. The other three children in his mother’s care are legal permanent residents.
Detained at Adelanto
While in the Adelanto detention center, Sorto has had trouble getting adequate medical care, according to Kidd.
“When he got there, he asked to see a doctor, but it took almost a month before he got to see anyone.” Kidd said. “He was told by doctors there that they don’t do preventive, that they would only treat him if he is sick. It’s like telling him they would only give him his treatment if he gets raped or poked by a needle, which doesn’t make sense because the medicine it doesn’t work that way.”
The Adelanto ICE Processing Center, owned and operated by the GEO Group, Inc., houses up to 1,940 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees. It was recently the object of a scathing report by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security.
In May 2018, inspectors made a surprise visit to Adelanto and found a number of violations to ICE’s Performance Based National Detention Standards. A report, issued in early October noted that the officials “identified serious issues relating to safety, detainee rights, and medical care that require ICE’s immediate attention.”
These issues, the report added, “not only constitute violations of ICE detention standards but also represent significant threats to the safety, rights, and health of detainees.”
Those included the availability of nooses made out of braided sheets in detainee cells —despite at least two suicide attempts by hanging (and one successful one in 2017)— lack of medical care and wait lists of many months for a dentist, which led to rotten teeth and infections.
Sorto’s attorneys asked the court to reopen his proceedings to pursue asylum, withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), given the danger to his life in Honduras as a gay man and the harm that would come to his whole family should he not be here to help them.
Kidd has also requested permission to marry Sorto, but he says ICE has not responded to the request.
At the time of this posting, Latino Rebels was waiting for ICE´s response to an inquiry about Sorto’s case, his targeting by the agency and his treatment in Adelanto.