José Guzman-Lopez, the 32-year-old Ithaca man whose arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in May prompted protests, pleaded guilty to the federal charge of possessing a false green card and is preparing for immigration court proceedings to determine if he will be deported.
Guzman-Lopez, a Mexican citizen, has been detained since the morning of May 2, when ICE officers waited for him to exit a house on Cascadilla Street and then arrested him for illegally entering the United States, according to an ICE spokesman and documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. Friends of Guzman-Lopez have previously said he has lived in the area for about a decade.
After handcuffing Guzman-Lopez, officers drove him to the parking lot of Ithaca’s Tops grocery store and searched him, at which point they found an alien registration card, commonly known as a green card, Guzman-Lopez’s attorney said.
Joseph Radley, a deportation officer with ICE, said in a federal complaint that Guzman-Lopez had said the card was fake and that “he only uses it at night when he goes to the bars.”
Guzman-Lopez pleaded guilty on July 19 to possessing a counterfeit document, a federal crime, and is awaiting his sentencing, which is currently scheduled for Oct. 27 in Binghamton.
In an interview this week, Guzman-Lopez’s attorney, Martin Wolfson, said that while the federal charge can carry a maximum of 10 years in prison, sentencing guidelines recommend zero to six months for Guzman-Lopez.
Wolfson said he and his client are hoping Judge Thomas J. McAvoy will sentence Guzman-Lopez to the time he has already served in Cayuga County Jail in the custody of U.S. Marshals.
Guzman-Lopez has been at the Cayuga County Jail for the majority of his detention after a brief period when he was held at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia.
Documents filed in federal court shed some new light on how and why ICE may have targeted Guzman-Lopez.
ICE discovered at some point that Guzman-Lopez had been arrested by Ithaca Police in 2013 and accused of stabbing another man, although attorneys in the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office never had enough evidence to prosecute Guzman-Lopez for the charge of assault.
Guzman-Lopez, as part of a plea deal with the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct on June 30, said Jeffrey Walker, his lawyer for the 2013 local charge.
But even though Guzman-Lopez was never tried for or convicted of anything more than disorderly conduct, the 2013 arrest still put him on ICE’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations’ radar, court documents show.
“ICE seems like they go out of their way to target hard-working people who are active in their community like this,” said Wolfson, who wondered whether directives given by the Trump administration may have resulted in the ICE arrest more than three years after Guzman-Lopez was charged by Ithaca Police.
Wolfson said Guzman-Lopez is “one of the nicest people” he’s ever represented and said he was heartened to see the support behind his client from friends in the Ithaca area.
After Guzman-Lopez is sentenced for the charge of possessing a forged document, he will still have to face immigration court, where he will be represented by a new attorney. A GoFundMe set up by friends has raised more than $8,000 to be used for legal fees, storage and travel to support Guzman-Lopez at his hearings, according to the site.
More than a dozen supporters attended his first court date in Syracuse before Judge Therese Wiley Dancks, who ordered in May that Guzman-Lopez remain in Marshals’ custody.