Originally Published in The New Yorker
Eric Lach - February 28, 2021
On the corner of Alexander Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard, in the Bronx, there’s a piano factory, a new barbecue restaurant called Hudson Smokehouse, and a Black Lives Matter mural painted recently enough that the clear-eyed, fist-raised protesters it depicts are wearing face masks. You can hear the trucks rumbling on the Major Deegan Expressway, one block north. Looking south, a sliver of Manhattan is visible beyond the Harlem River. This past week, I met Dariela Moncada Maradiaga on that corner, which is a few blocks from her apartment. She told me about how, nearly fifteen months earlier, it was the spot where her brother Javier Castillo Maradiaga was arrested and her family’s American story began to unravel. “Sometimes, as an immigrant,” she said, “it’s just your turn.”
Dariela, who is in her mid-thirties, and works as a waitress, is the eldest of four kids. Her mother, Alma, who works as a clerk at Metropolitan hospital, in East Harlem, came to America from Honduras in 1997, under a special U.S. government designation called Temporary Protected Status. In 2002, she sent for Javier and Jason, her youngest children. The boys made the journey north, across the southern border, when Javier was eight and Jason was six. Dariela joined them a few months later. (A fourth sibling stayed in Honduras.) Ever since, Dariela said, Javier and Jason have been as close as brothers could be.
The trouble began with a birthday party. On December 14, 2019—a Saturday—Dariela invited her family over to celebrate Jason turning twenty-four. The plan was to have dinner and then, at Jason’s request, watch a U.F.C. fight. Jason and Alma arrived early. Dariela’s ten-year-old daughter was there, too. By the time the food was ready, they were only waiting on Javier. “Hey, is your brother coming or what?” Dariela remembers asking Jason.
“He’s being stopped for a traffic infraction,” one of the officers said, telling Jason to back off.
“They say that I crossed the street on red,” Javier told his brother.
“For jaywalking?” Jason shouted. “White people here don’t do that? Theydon’t cross the street?”
“He got stopped for disobeying a pedestrian-control device back there,” the officer said, gesturing up the block.
Several more police vehicles, including a van full of officers, arrived on the corner. Jason called Dariela. “The police just took Javier for jaywalking!” he said. Dariela, in a rush to leave, put on flip-flops—in December—rather than lace up a pair of shoes. She and Jason went to the police precinct a few blocks away, and then, the next day, they went to a nearby courthouse, to post bail for Javier. Jason was there until around three in the morning, when he saw a Department of Correction bus drive away from the building with Javier inside.
Later that day, Javier was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement—a violation of New York City laws that would soon prompt a Department of Correction internal investigation. But that investigation would do nothing for Javier. He’d spend two Christmases, a pandemic, and a change in Presidential Administrations inside immigrant detention centers in New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana. Javier could be put on a plane to Honduras as soon as next week.
This was all a big mistake. While reporting this article, I obtained a letter that New York City’s Law Department sent to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan on February 3rd, acknowledging that Javier had only been turned over to ice because of “an operational error involving the City’s local detainer law, which has since been addressed.” According to city officials, after Javier’s transfer was discovered, one Department of Correction employee was suspended, and then moved to a different unit in the department. The D.O.C. also put in place new procedures, such as involving its attorneys more closely in reviewing interactions with ice. In a statement, a New York City spokesperson described Javier’s release to ice as “an egregious mistake and a clear violation of local law,” adding that, “while we were unable to reverse this painful action, the City took immediate measures to ensure accountability for this misconduct, including officer discipline and clear procedural changes in how cases are reviewed.” The letter from the Law Department urged for Javier’s release, but ice has remained implacable. In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the agency sent me a statement saying that Javier had been ordered to leave the country in 2003—when he was nine—and had “failed to comply.” “As of Feb. 26,” the statement reads, “he remains in ICE custody.”
During the Obama Administration, Javier had applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Even with the deportation order that had been issued against him, he met daca’s qualifications, as did his siblings. In 2011, a year before the daca program was created, Javier graduated from Knowledge & Power Preparatory Academy, in the Bronx. He always had a head for math, Dariela told me, and according to his niece he makes the best hamburgers in the world. daca granted all three siblings a degree of legal status in America. Dariela described the feeling of freedom she had when she left New York City for the first time as an adult. In 2013, the family took Dariela’s daughter to Disney World.
After Donald Trump was elected, though, the siblings faced a choice. daca status has to be renewed every two years. Many recipients became nervous about giving updated addresses and other personal information to an Administration that was trying to end the program altogether, and that was openly hostile to immigrants. “Trump was packing the courts, and the daca cases were moving from court to court, and it felt imminent that they’d get rid of it,” Dariela told me. She reapplied, despite her reservations, feeling that she had to cling to whatever legal status she could, for her daughter’s sake. Javier, fearful of what the government might do to him, let his daca status lapse.