Within the past several weeks, at least four people have been detained after routine check-in appointments at the Pearl U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office, local advocates say.
The most recent was Carthage resident Baldomero Orozco Juarez, who is Guatemalan and has been living and working in Mississippi for 14 years. He was detained April 12 during a scheduled check-in, said Lorena Quiroz, executive director of the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity.
Since then, he has been at the LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, which is where many Mississippi immigrants are sent, she said.
Orozco Juarez was deported after the 2019 ICE chicken plant raids, reentered the country and spent over a year in a detention center in Texas until the agency approved his probationary release, she said.
“It was already determined you can do that,” Quiroz said about Juarez awaiting his court date from home instead of in a detention center.
Nearly two weeks ago, she and a dozen other community advocates went to the Pearl ICE office to ask for answers about Orozco Juarez’s detention but were not told much. Demonstrators were asked to leave the building and local police were called as they stood outside.
With probationary release, Orozco Juarez was able to obtain a work permit, driver’s license and a Social Security card, Quiroz said.
She said Orozco Juarez, who has been working, caring for his family and going to routine ICE check-ins, is not a flight risk. Before his recent detention, he had gone to three scheduled check-ins.
Orozco Juarez’s wife, Sylvia Garcia, came to the immigration office once she learned her husband had been detained. With translation from Quiroz, Garcia said it will be difficult without Orozco Juarez because she is injured and unable to work.
“They are separating our families without any reason,” Garcia said.
She and Juarez have two children, ages 5 and 9, who were born in Mississippi.
Dalaney Mecham, an immigration attorney in Gulfport, said officers have a lot of discretion when it comes to deciding whether to let someone into the country at the U.S.-Mexico border or whether to detain them during a check-in.
Due to changes with processing at the border within the past several years, the agency has started issuing paperwork for people to report to an ICE office so they can get a document called a “notice to appear,” which would include a time, date and location of their next immigration court date. Previously, people were issued a notice to appear at the border, Mecham said.
A clear picture of common arrests during check-ins in Mississippi and nationwide is not known. A spokesperson with ICE’s public affairs office in Washington D.C. did not respond to a request to access any data the agency keeps about arrests during check-ins, and data the agency does have online does not specify about these kinds of arrests.
ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias said the agency makes decisions about who to place in custody on a case-by-case basis regardless of nationality based on policy and factors of each case.
But Orozco Juarez has a documented history of disregarding immigration law, which contributed to his recent detention, he said.
“For the past two years, ICE afforded Mr. [Orozco Juarez] the opportunity to be compliant with his removal order by planning his own return to Guatemala,” Yglesias said in the statement. “He will remain in ICE custody pending his removal from the country.”
The Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity knows of three other people who have been detained in recent weeks.
ICE had given those people a smartphone with an app that allows the agency to monitor whether they are staying in the area by taking a picture of themselves or answering a phone call when requested, Quiroz said.
The immigrants received an email saying the app was closed and they needed to come to the ICE office, she said. When they called the office back to learn when to come, there was no answer. They went to the office to check in on their appointment and were held without explanation.
All three of the detained people are Nicaraguan immigrants who are seeking asylum due to political instability and violence in their country, Quiroz said. They had been in the United States for a year or less, and one was transferred to the Jena detention facility.
Orozco Juarez could be detained until his trial, which could take years, but the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity and his attorney are hoping to bring him home.
Most of the immigration court proceedings for the area are conducted in New Orleans.
The average wait time for a case in the New Orleans court is 709 days, which is nearly two years, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse immigration backlog tracker by Syracuse University. This wait time is about two months shorter than the national case wait time of 762 days.
As of January, there are an estimated 48,690 pending cases across all of Louisiana’s immigration courts, which include the largest in New Orleans and two smaller ones based in detention centers in Oakdale and Jena, according to the TRAC backlog tracker.
Mecham said some people he has represented have also been taken into custody during their routine ICE check-ins. He has noticed how people seek attorneys before their appointments because they are scared and have heard stories about others being detained during their check-ins.
“Not knowing if they are going to come home that day is scary, especially if you have kids and you’ve been here for a while,” Mecham said.
Similar to the experience of Orozco Juarez at the Pearl office, Mecham’s client, Lenin Ramirez, went to an ICE check-in in August 2021 in New Orleans, and that resulted in a two-month detention in a Louisiana detention center.
Mecham called the immigration office to ask why his client was detained, especially since Ramirez, who lives in Mobile, was seeking asylum from Nicaragua. The officer said he was detained because he entered the country without authorization, Mecham said.
Mecham was able to get Ramirez out by going first to the New Orleans ICE field office, then at the federal level through ICE’s ombudsman and the Department of Homeland Security, which reviewed Ramirez’s case and issued him a notice to appear with his scheduled court date.
Since Ramirez’s release, Mecham has filed Ramirez’s asylum application and they are waiting for his next court date in July 2025.