An undocumented immigrant who was released last week after spending 10 months in an immigration detention facility spoke Monday about his decision to accept a deal to secure his freedom, at least for now.
Officials atU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offered to release Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, 32, if he would agree to drop a lawsuit against the federal agency for relying on false Chicago Police Department records that peggedCatalan-Ramirez as a member of a gang.
He was arrested last March during a raid on his Back of the Yards neighborhood home, where ICE agents slammed him to the ground, aggravating previous injuries he had suffered in a drive-by shooting.
The gang designation allowed federal authorities to access information onCatalan-Ramirez and,according tohis attorney, Sheila Bedi, led federal agents to his doorstep.
The agreement also called for ICE to hold off on deportation proceedings for one year to give Catalan-Ramirez time to get though a visa application process.
“Wilmer had to trade away his civil rights case against ICE in exchange for his release,” Bedi said Monday at a news conference to discuss the case.
He accepted the deal reluctantly, Bedi said, so he could see his three children again.
“For me, being with my children has no price, and that’s why I decided to agree to the deal,” he said though an interpreter.
Last month, in order to settle a separate civil rights lawsuit, police officials admitted they could not verify Catalan-Ramirez was a gang member and agreed to modify his status in their records.
The settlement did not include monetary compensation.
Another part of the settlement called for the Chicago Police Department to write a letter to federal immigration authorities stating it had no objection to Catalan-Ramirez receiving a visa to stay in the country.
“I am not a gang member, Catalan-Ramirez said. Just because I live in a bad area of the city doesn’t mean I’m a gang member.”
Bedi said that the Chicago police are too quick to label young people as gang members.
Someone can end up on the so-called gang database for simply coming from a “known gang area,” she said.
One key discrepancy helped prove that Catalan-Ramirez was wrongly labeled. Officers in two separate encounters, neither of which resulted in arrest, noted that he was in separate gangs that are rivals of each other. “How could he be a member of rival gangs,” Bedi said.
Catalan-Ramirez is currently applying for a special category of visa made available to witnesses of crimes who help police.
He qualifies, according to his attorney, because he worked with police following a drive-by shooting in January 2017 that left him with serious injuries after suffering bullet wounds to his head and shoulder.
“He was an innocent bystander eating at a restaurant when the shooting occurred in the parking lot,” said Bedi, an attorney with Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic.