Photo provided by family
Mario Ramon-Reyes’s little brother was snatched away before his eyes.
Sitting in his living room Wednesday, he says he’d feel better if he’d been the one abruptly taken away by a U.S. Marshals task force and sent to the Forsyth County Detention Facility.
Ramon-Reyes is the brother of Edwin Reyes-Guillen, who is now facing deportation after officers detained him instead of the wanted murderer they were looking for at Duke Manor apartments Tuesday morning. It was Reyes-Guillen’s first encounter with Immigration and Customs Enforcement since he came to North Carolina from Honduras four years ago. He has no known criminal record or outstanding deportation order.
Ramon-Reyes left Honduras eleven years ago to work in California. There, he was told of higher paying jobs in North Carolina and made the move cross-country. Reyes-Guillen, the youngest of three brothers, moved in with Ramon-Reyes and took a job as a painter, hoping to “build a home and buy land,” his older brother says. About two years ago, he moved into a different apartment complex down the road.
Reyes-Guillen Ramon-Reyes and his wife, Elda Bonilla, can easily describe Reyes-Guillen’s character: loving, mild-mannered, very careful. They have a harder time naming his hobbies and interests. He works every day, even Sundays, they say. He doesn’t go out to bars and avoids driving whenever possible. Time he doesn’t pass at work or his apartment is spent in their home, playing with their two young daughters. He saves money to support his two children in Honduras and his mother, who suffers from diabetes and recently underwent a major surgery, Ramon-Reyes says.
According to Ramon-Reyes and Bonilla, Reyes-Guillen was taking out the trash at Duke Manor Tuesday morning when he was first approached by officers and asked if he had ever been detained by ICE. Reyes-Guillen, who told the officers his name was Francisco, said no. The officers then told Reyes-Guillen he was being arrested, his brother and sister-in-law say. The officers then threw him against a van and tried to handcuff him. Fearful because of his undocumented status, Reyes-Guillen ran.
Officers then knocked on the door of Ramon-Reyes’s apartment and said they were looking for “Francisco” or someone named Pedro Vasquez. Bonilla said no one by either name lived there. The armed officers searched their apartment, including the bedroom where their seven-year-old daughter was sleeping, Bonilla says. The girl has barely eaten since and would not go to school at Forest View Elementary that day, says Roxana Bendezú, with the immigrant advocacy group Alerta Migratoria NC.
Members of Alerta Migratoria NC went to Forest View Elementary School Wednesday morning to speak to administrators about the incident, which was witnessed by students as they boarded the school bus, and pass on a letter from Bonilla.
According to the letter, Bonilla’s husband got a call from the school Tuesday when their daughter didn’t show up. Panicked students had told their teachers that "immigration was at Monica's house."
“Many of them were scared to get home and not find their parents,” she wrote.
With the help of Alerta Migratoria, Reyes-Guillen’s family is working to hire an attorney. His brother’s fear is that he will be taken out of state before something can be done.
Officers would tell Bonilla and her husband a different account of what brought them to their door after their first encounter with Reyes-Guillen: they said they had received an anonymous call about their specific apartment (they gave no other details) and that they were looking for a man who had raped a girl the same age as Monica, the couple says. (The INDY
has been unable to confirm with the U.S. Marshals Service whether the fugitive they were after Tuesday has been apprehended.)
Despite her insistence that her brother-in-law was not the man they were looking for, the officers told Bonilla she could go to jail for harboring a fugitive. Saying they needed Reyes-Guillen to come back to the apartment to show he wasn’t the wanted fugitive, they convinced her to call him at work. Reluctantly, he agreed to return.
Officers came up on either side of their building—too many to count, Bonilla says. When Reyes-Guillen arrived, they tried to calm him and get him to come closer. Once within reach, they forced him face down on the ground and stepped on him before turning him over, Bonilla says. She saw him spit blood.
This is when Bonilla got out her cell phone and captured a video that, after being shared on Facebook by Alerta Migratoria NC, was viewed twenty-four thousand times within nine hours.
In it, an officer can be seen going through Reyes-Guillen’s wallet (Bonilla says he had a passport and ID on him). As Bonilla cries out, “It’s not right,” an officer asks if she wants “problems with immigration” and tells her in Spanish to shut up.
“If the police want to detain us, that’s one thing,” Bendezú says, translating for Bonilla. “But they should treat us like human beings.”
Rosbin Fuentes, who lives across the hall, witnessed the arrest through the peephole in his door. He says he heard the officers ask Reyes-Guillen for fingerprints before forcing him to the ground, his head landing on their doormat. Fuentes’s wife, intending to check on her neighbor’s kids, tried to open the door. It was immediately pulled shut by an officer, Fuentes says.
The official version of events, according to ICE spokesman Bryan Cox, goes like this: “The U.S. Marshals Joint Fugitive Task Force, of which ICE is a member, was seeking an international fugitive wanted for murder March 28 at the location where they encountered unlawfully present Honduran national Edwin Reyes-Guillen. ICE deportation officers took Mr. Reyes into custody following a brief struggle after he actively attempted to resist arrest.”
Cox went on to say that under orders from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly—and an executive order from President Trump—“ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and if found removable by final order, removal from the United States. Further, anyone giving credence to the idea that an ICE officer’s commands can be ignored or fought during an encounter is endangering public safety and the very people they claim to support and represent.”
In the current political climate, Ramon-Reyes and his wife say they feel so anxious and unwelcome, they might as well return to Honduras.
"I've been here eleven years," Ramon-Reyes says, "and this is the worst time of my life in this country."
Ramon-Reyes says he spoke to his brother Tuesday. Reyes-Guillen complained of swelling and pain in his head and said he was being taken to a jail in Winston-Salem. Ramon-Reyes hasn’t heard from him since.