Supporters demand freedom for gay man detained during immigration meeting

Paul Frame shows emotion while speaking about his husband, who has been detained by ICE, as Miguel Andrade, Communications Manager of Juntos, back right, looks on at a press conference at the William Way Center in Center City.

Supporters are insisting that Jose “Ivan” Noe Nuñez Martinez — a gay man who was taken into custody while meeting with federal immigration authorities to try to resolve his status — be freed immediately, or at least be given an opportunity to argue before a judge for his release.

He’s no threat to the community, they say, and the fact that his husband lives in the region makes him unlikely to flee.

On Tuesday, leaders of Juntos, Galaei, and the ACLU joined immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Center City to announce the filing of a federal complaint and begin a “Call to Action” for Martinez.

They asked the public to phone the Philadelphia offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and demand that Martinez be let go.

“Ivan’s detention is a good example of unlawful and unjust action on the part of immigration authorities,” said ACLU lawyer Golnaz Fakhimi, who along with immigration lawyer Audrey Allen is representing Martinez.

The federal complaint seeks to end Martinez’s nearly four-month detention, requesting the court to either immediately order his release or conduct a bond hearing, the attorneys said. A copy of the filing was not immediately available.

In a statement, ICE officials said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. It said that Martinez was “unlawfully present in the United States,” and had previously been removed from the country.

“ICE deportation officers conduct enforcement actions every day around the country, including Pennsylvania, as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to uphold public safety and border security,” the statement said.

Martinez, 37, of Michoacán, Mexico, entered the country without documentation in 2001 and later married Paul Frame, an American citizen. On Jan. 31, the couple arrived at what they expected to be a routine interview with officials of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in West Philadelphia.

“I thought we were going to be in and out in 20 minutes,” Frame said on Tuesday.

Instead, Frame and others said, ICE officers entered the room, locked Nunez in handcuffs and took him away. He remains at the York County Detention Center, where federal authorities frequently hold undocumented immigrants.

“Paul, we stand in solidarity with you,” said Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way Center. “I know how much he can contribute, and how much other immigrants who are behind bars can contribute, to our communities.”

Supporters say Martinez feared for his life after the murder of a gay friend and fled to the United States in 2001. In 2010, he returned to Mexico to see a sick family member.

When Martinez attempted to re-enter the U.S., he was stopped at the border, briefly detained, then quickly sent back. That is so common at the border that people who are returned to Mexico often don’t even realize the U.S. government may consider them deportees.

Many attempt to return within a day or so, as did Martinez, this time successfully.

In the U.S. his advocates said, Martinez lived a peaceful and productive life, working for a janitorial-service company and then at an auto body repair shop.

In August 2014, he met and fell in love with Frame, and they married in April 2016.

Undocumented immigrants who reenter the U.S. after being removed or deported can be charged with a felony offense, although that’s rare. Nunez was never charged, and has no criminal record, his lawyers said.

Frame earlier said that his husband was doing exactly what immigration critics demand, “getting in line” and filing papers to live here legally.

Camera icon JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Golnaz Fakhimi, an immigrants’ rights attorney for the ACLU, speaks at a news conference. Paul Frame (left) looks on at the William Way Center in Philadelphia.

The couple were at USCIS to continue petitioning for what is called an I-130 Form, for U.S. citizens or permanent residents who want to help a family member —  in this case, a spouse —  legally immigrate to the U.S. The interview was intended to confirm the validity of the couple’s marriage, a routine step in the process.

Officials at USCIS earlier said it is standard practice for the agency to notify ICE when people who come to the office have warrants of deportation or are in proceedings. A USCIS spokesperson on Tuesday said the agency could not comment on pending litigation.

After Martinez was detained, he and Frame were approved for their I-130, attorney Gonzalo Peralta said.

ICE officials earlier said that while the agency focuses on people who pose a threat, all those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to arrest, detention, and potential deportation.