For the past four years, Edwin Reyes-Guillen has lived a quiet life in Durham.
He doesn’t go out to bars or clubs, says his older brother, Mario Ramon-Reyes. Instead, the twenty-six-year-old spends his time (when he isn’t working as a painter) chasing his giggling nieces around their parents’ apartment and his money supporting two children of his own and an ailing mother in his native Honduras.
Last Tuesday, Reyes-Guillen’s quiet life was interrupted when he was approached by, and then ran from, a U.S. Marshals task force looking for a man wanted for murder near his brother’s apartment in Duke Manor. While the fugitive remained at large as of Friday, Reyes-Guillen, who has no known criminal record, was eventually detained and spent the last week in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He now faces the threat of deportation.
Reyes-Guillen’s attorney, Beckie Moriello, is not admitting that her client is an immigrant, authorized or otherwise; it’s up to the Department of Homeland Security to prove that before he could be removed from the country. But to ICE, he’s “unlawfully present Honduran national Edwin Reyes-Guillen,” subject to detention simply for being in America under the expanded immigration-enforcement policies of President Trump.
“Edwin wouldn’t have been put into proceedings under second-term [President Barack] Obama,” Moriello says. “So this is definitely a shift from that.”
Although the Obama administration deported about 1.5 million undocumented immigrants during his first term, policies during his second term prioritized the deportation of immigrants who committed crimes. Under Trump, however, homeland security secretary John Kelly says ICE will no longer exempt any “classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
And that leaves people like Reyes-Guillen, who had never come in contact with ICE before last week, vulnerable. The day after Reyes-Guillen’s arrest, the wife of a U.S. citizen in Massachusetts was taken into custody during an appointment to start the process of getting her green card. In February, a Seattle man protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was detained in an unrelated search for his father.
“All of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and if found removable by final order, removal from the United States,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told the INDY in response to inquiries about Reyes-Guillen’s detention. “Further, anyone giving credence to the idea that an ICE officer’s commands can be ignored or fought during an encounter is endangering public safety and the very people they claim to support and represent.”
According to Cox, the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, of which ICE is a member, took Reyes-Guillen into custody Tuesday after he fled from officers looking for the fugitive and “actively attempted to resist arrest.”
“As officers had not yet positively determined the identities of the individuals present when he attempted to flee, it was uncertain whether he was the fugitive or someone else, so a pursuit ensued. During that pursuit he physically resisted arrest,” Cox says.
Reyes-Guillen’s brother and sister-in-law tell a somewhat different story. They say Reyes-Guillen was taking out the trash when he was first approached by officers who asked if he had ever been detained by ICE. They pressed him against a van, one officer with his knee on Reyes-Guillen’s back and another trying to wrangle him into handcuffs. Reyes-Guillen got away and ran, they say.
Officers then came to the door of Ramon-Reyes and his wife, Elda Bonilla, and said they were looking for someone named Pedro Vasquez or Francisco (a fake name Reyes-Guillen had given them earlier). Later, the officers told the couple they had received an anonymous call about their apartment and that they were looking for a man who had raped a girl the same age as their seven-year-old daughter. They searched the couple’s apartment, including the bedroom where the girl was sleeping.
Despite the couple’s insistence that Reyes-Guillen was not the fugitive they sought, officers convinced Bonilla to get her brother-in-law to come back to the apartment and prove his identity. Using a cell phone, Bonilla filmed Reyes-Guillen being taken into custody.
In the minute-long video, Reyes-Guillen is lying on the ground, his head on the doormat of the apartment across the hall. One officer sorts through his wallet while another tries to get Bonilla to go back in her apartment and close the door. As they walk Reyes-Guillen down the steps of the apartment building, officers ask Bonilla if she wants “problems” with immigration and tell her to shut up.
“Witnesses report seeing blood and law enforcement authorities stomping on Edwin’s head,” advocacy group Alerta Migratoria posted on Facebook, along with Bonilla’s video. “All this happened in front of children who were waiting for their school bus to Forest View Elementary. Children arrived at school in a complete state of panic and worried about returning to empty homes.”
Chris Atwater, chief deputy for the U.S. Marshals Service in North Carolina’s Middle District, said last week that his agency has received no information suggesting Reyes-Guillen was taken down violently by officers. He said the agency is “still gathering information” on the encounter.
Atwater would not name the fugitive officers were seeking, but he told the INDY that local marshals had inherited the case from an agency in the Los Angeles area. Atwater also declined to say why Reyes-Guillen was approached to begin with, saying his agency’s role that morning was to serve the warrant.
“If it’s true that he was arrested just because he ran, then that’s problematic because running isn’t a crime,” Moriello says, questioning whether there was probable cause for the stop in the first place. “I don’t know if there was any racial profiling at all. It sounds like there was.”
Reyes-Guillen was awarded a $10,000 bond following a hearing in Charlotte on Monday morning. An online fundraiser has been set up to help his family raise the money. Once the bond is paid, he can return to North Carolina and meet for the first time with Moriello. (There is no way for attorneys to call immigration detainees in North or South Carolina jails, she says.)
Moriello told the INDY Tuesday morning that Reyes-Guillen was being transferred to the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. The detention center, which has housed immigration detainees since 2010, is government-owned but privately operated by LaSalle Corrections. Both the national ACLU and its Georgia chapter have called for the facility’s closure, citing a lack of access to legal help, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate medical and mental health care.
Moriello says she plans to file a motion to suppress evidence introduced Monday morning claiming that Reyes-Guillen admitted to officials when he was taken into custody that he is from Honduras. Such motions are “very difficult to win,” she admits.
If he is bonded out, Reyes-Guillen’s next court date will be in Charlotte. According to the Marshall Project, a criminal justice news website, 87.8 percent of immigration cases before that court in fiscal year 2015 ended with deportation, compared to the national average of 73.4 percent. If he does not make bond, the case will go to the Atlanta immigration court, which deported 88.3 percent of immigrants who came before it in 2015.
This article appeared in print with the headline “An Unfortunate Man.”