A federal judge on Friday ordered the Mexican immigrant arrested in Ithaca to remain in the custody of U.S. Marshals as the government’s case against him for allegedly possessing a forged green card continues.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thérèse Wiley Dancks ordered that José Guzman-Lopez, 32, who was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers earlier this month, be remanded to the Cayuga County Jail while the government prosecutes him for allegedly violating federal law by possessing a counterfeit document.
The order was made against the arguments of Guzman-Lopez’s public defender, Martin Wolfson, who offered that the judge could order his client to wear an ankle monitor or abide by a curfew. But Wolfson acknowledged that even if Guzman-Lopez had been released from the custody of U.S. Marshals on Friday, he would have been transferred back to the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia while his deportation case proceeds.
Friday’s detention hearing in Syracuse at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York dealt with the government’s criminal charge against Guzman-Lopez in federal court, but complicating his situation is a criminal charge that has been pending in county court for more than three years and his likely deportation, which is stalled by the federal charge.
ICE officers arrested Guzman-Lopez on May 2 for “illegal entry” into the U.S. as part of a targeted enforcement operation, an agency spokesman previously told The Sun, setting off a large protest in Ithaca the next day.
When ICE agents arrested Guzman-Lopez, who was walking on Cascadilla Street, they found an alien registration card, often called a green card, in his wallet, according to a sworn affidavit filed in court by Deportation Officer Joseph Radley. Guzman-Lopez voluntarily said the card was fake and that “he only uses it at night when he goes to bars,” Radley said.
A grand jury indicted Guzman-Lopez, who is a Mexican citizen, on Wednesday for allegedly violating federal law by “possessing a forged, counterfeit, and falsely made document.” The maximum penalty for a conviction on that charge is 10 years in prison.
More than 20 friends and supporters of Guzman-Lopez packed the federal court in Syracuse on Friday, and the 32-year-old smiled and mouthed “thank you for coming” to his supporters as he was ushered into the room by two U.S. Marshals. He was handcuffed and wore an orange Cayuga County Jail jumpsuit as he conferred with his lawyer and briefly with an interpreter during the proceedings, which lasted just over an hour.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Miroslav Lovric painted Guzman-Lopez as a serial liar, a flight risk and a danger to the community at the detention hearing, saying he had illegally used the fake document to gain employment in Ithaca.
“The defendant’s conduct in this case and some of the other things that have occurred in the defendant’s background ring of deception,” Lovric said. “He tried to deceive a lot of different people with this forged card.”
Guzman-Lopez’s public defender pushed back on Lovric’s arguments, noting that his client has lived in Ithaca for a decade, worked at various restaurants in the city for most of that time and is beloved by friends he has made in the community.
Wolfson, the public defender, said the government’s claims that Guzman-Lopez does not have ties to the area and is a flight risk were “incredible.”
“Mr. Guzman-Lopez wants to be in this country — he wants to be in Ithaca … the reason he’s in court today is because he wants to stay,” Wolfson said, later adding: “He’s been working six days a week for the last six years.”
Lovric zeroed in on the arrest of Guzman-Lopez in 2013 by the Ithaca Police Department, whose officers accused him of stabbing a man early in the morning on Nov. 1 of that year.
Ithaca Police charged Guzman-Lopez with assault in the second degree, a felony, but the case has been pending for more than three years in Tompkins County Court because witnesses are “not eagerly cooperating,” Lovric said, citing a conversation he had with Daniel Johnson, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the Tompkins County case.
Johnson recently offered a deal in which Guzman-Lopez would plead guilty to disorderly conduct in that case, but attorney Jeffrey Walker, who is defending Guzman-Lopez in Tompkins County, said on Friday that he has not yet been authorized by his client to accept the deal.
Friends said after the hearing that the stabbing was in self-defense, and Wolfson argued to the judge that “the most glaring fact” regarding the arrest was that the 2013 charge was the only allegation against Guzman-Lopez during his decade living in Ithaca.
Regardless of the circumstances, the 2013 arrest by Ithaca Police was what put Guzman-Lopez on ICE’s radar.
“Mr. Guzman-Lopez came to our attention after having been charged locally for his possible involvement in a criminal matter,” Thomas Brophy, Buffalo acting field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removals Operations, said in a statement earlier this month.
Several days after the 2013 arrest, Lovric said, immigration authorities learned of the local charges and spoke to Guzman-Lopez while he was held at the Tompkins County Jail.
After that conversation, immigration authorities sent a detainer to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, but Guzman-Lopez had already been bailed out, Lovric said.
Lovric submitted an Ithaca Police Department incident report to the court, which the judge said weighed heavily on her decision.
“I’m aware that you have a lot of support in this room, but … I am ordering your detention,” Wiley Dancks said to Guzman-Lopez. “I’m looking at this police report and finding that there is a risk of danger if you are released.”
“You have no family ties to the Northern District of New York, no property ownership here,” she continued. “And you have significant ties to a foreign country.”
Wiley Dancks also noted that seven letters were submitted to the court from supporters, who urged her to release Guzman-Lopez back to the detention facility in Batavia.
“I have not arrived at this decision easily, Mr. Guzman-Lopez,” she said, “but I feel compelled to rule the way I have ruled.”
Angela McEnerney, an Ithaca resident and friend of Guzman-Lopez, said outside the federal court that she wished the letters had made more of an impact on the judge.
“It feels weird that he’s not [in Ithaca],” she said, “and it feels less safe that he’s not there. He was always diffusing and always making people laugh.”
Wolfson told supporters after the judge’s ruling that while the decision was not ideal for his client, it was positive in two ways: Guzman-Lopez will be closer to Ithaca and the time he serves at the county facility will count toward any possible sentence, which is not the case for time served at the Batavia facility.
As Guzman-Lopez walked out of the courtroom, he waved one of his handcuffed hands at his friends.
“Thank you for coming, I love you all,” he said as U.S. Marshals led him out of the room.