U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., expressed thanks today after he met privately with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on behalf of two undocumented South Carolina men who face deportation.
Gutierrez said his Charleston visit marked the first time he has made a special trip in a deportation case, and about 30 Hispanic protesters chanted on the sidewalk outside ICE's office at 170 Meeting St. as the congressman was inside.
Gutierrez sought to help Gabino Sánchez, 27, of Ridgeland, who has lived here for 13 years and has two young children who are United States citizens.
Gutierrez also assisted Roger Rablero Martinez of Ladson, who was stopped for speeding in Mount Pleasant and then detained when the officer learned he did not have a driver's license.
Neither was deported today. Instead, Sanchez was allowed to remain free and faces a March 13, 2012 court date in Charlotte, while Martinez will remain free and has a Jan. 10 court date.
Afterward, Sanchez called Gutierrez "a good man," adding, "I'm feeling good now."
Rablero Martinez said he was kept in the Charleston County Detention Center for six days before posting a $2,500 bond. He said Mount Pleasant police pulled him over for speeding while he was on his way to work there.
Gutierrez said he now will work to urge the federal government to drop both deportation proceedings since both men have been law-abiding and arrived in the country when they were teenagers.
He also encouraged Rablero Martinez to get his high school equivalency diploma. "Keep it on the straight and narrow," Gutierrez told him. "Make us all proud."
The cases have rallied the local and national Hispanic advocates who held a vigil in Washington Square Park before moving their protest up Meeting Street.
"Obama! Listen! We're here in the struggle," they chanted in Spanish.
Gutierrez learned about Sánchez's plight during a visit to Charleston earlier this month, and said his case is a perfect example of someone who should receive a break under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's new deportation priorities.
He chairs the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Today's protest was coordinated with help from Emma Lozano, pastor of Lincoln United Methodist Church in Chicago and president of Familias Latinas Unidas/Sin Fronteras, and Diana Salazaar, a Lowcountry Hispanic advocate.
While the immediate issue is how the Immigration and Customs Enforcement is handling deportations, the Hispanic community also is concerned about South Carolina's new immigration law set to take effect Jan. 1.
The law would require officers making a traffic stop to alert federal immigration officials if they suspect someone is in the country illegally.
Opponents say it would encourage racial profiling, but the law's supporters, including its author state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, said that's not so. "Pardon me for not buying the notion that enforcing immigration law is a matter of discretion and tact and proper timing," he recently wrote. "In my book, either you're here legally or you aren't."
It's unclear if South Carolina's law will take effect in January: The Justice Department has filed a legal challenge, much like it did to a similar law in Arizona.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel is scheduled to hold an injunction hearing in Charleston on Dec. 19.