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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Ithaca couple to stand trial in Texas

The Texas district attorney at the Cameron County Court in Brownsville, Texas, dropped a charge for resisting arrest, search or transport against Ithaca resident Omar Figueredo on April 8. After a two-hour deliberation, the jury voted 3–3 and couldn’t come to a unanimous decision on a charge of obstructing a highway or other passageway, resulting in a consensus to retrial in the near future.

Figueredo said he is upset the case will be reset for retrial at a later date.

“I am, of course, disappointed that the state moved forward at all, especially after dismissing the second case, and to a lesser degree I am bummed that the jury could not come to a unanimous decision,” he said.

Last year, Figueredo and Nancy Morales, lecturer in the Center for Culture, Race and Ethnicity, were arrested March 26, 2013, in Brownsville, Texas, for refusing to answer questions from U.S. Border Patrol officers regarding their citizenship status. The two were walking to the security checkpoint at the airport to catch a domestic flight to Ithaca after visiting family.

As a result of not answering Border Patrol’s questions, Figueredo and Morales were jailed for about six hours. Figueredo said during their time in jail, friends, family and colleagues from California, Minnesota, Texas, North Carolina, New York and Oregon all began a calling campaign to the jail demanding their release.

“Had there not been any phone calls and pressure, and also from my own family here, together we were bailed out, we would have most likely, at least that first night, been in jail,” Figueredo said.

Morales said she thinks this situation is discriminatory because there was no reason for Border Patrol to question Morales and Figueredo.

“Under the U.S. Constitution, we, on especially the Fourth Amendment, are protected where we cannot be questioned or pursued without probable cause,” Morales said.

Daniel Kolwaski, a citizenship and immigration law attorney in Austin, Texas, said Border Patrol has no right to stop someone unless there is reason to believe they are an undocumented immigrant or are in the United States unlawfully.

“Absent those two conditions, Border Patrol can ask, but the person doesn’t have an obligation to answer, and Border Patrol cannot detain anyone absent to those two conditions unless Border Patrol has strong reason to believe that the person is an alien and is unlawful in the United States,” he said.

Morales, who declined to answer a question about her citizenship from Border Patrol officials, was charged for interference with public duties and obstructing a highway or other passageway. Her pre-trial appearance will be at the end of April, where the accuracy of her charges will be discussed and the district attorney will decide whether to pursue her charges in a trial.

“Under our U.S. Constitutional civil rights, we have the right not to answer,” Morales said. “They may ask, but we don’t have to answer. So for us to refuse to be complicit, we were wrongfully arrested. The police intervened when the police should have never intervened out of no where and arrested us.”

Though Border Patrol had no reason to arrest Morales and Figueredo, Kolwaski said the Brownsville police could turn to statutes, previous cases in which the situation and decision can be used to justify the outcome of a current case, to arrest the two.

“The reason the Brownsville police were able to arrest these two individuals was because most jurisdictions — local, state and federal — have ordinances or statutes that require a person to identify oneself.”

According to Kolwaski, one particular statute is Hiibel vs. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada. Kolwaski said this case stated that suspects are required to disclose their names to police during an investigation and it does not violate the Fourth Amendment if there is reasonable suspicion of criminal involvement.

“Ultimately, in this case, that’s why the Border Patrol walked away from these two individuals and did not go further because they knew they could not.”

Prior to his pre-trial appearance, Figueredo sent an email March 27 to his supporters and thanked everyone who had been vocal throughout the process.

“We both know that what we did was stand up for the dignity of being (perceived as) brown, Mexican and immigrant in South Texas and that this, in turn, was interpreted as a threat to the authority of the Border Patrol and its allies,” Figueredo said in the email.