UPDATE: On Wednesday, March 1, Jose Luis Cordova Herrera was released on a $3,000 bond following public outcry from nearly 1,500 people, including Vermont’s congressional delegation. As Migrant Justice wrote in a press statement, Cordova Herrera is free but remains in removal proceedings and will have to return to immigration court.
“I want to thank everyone who supported me while I was locked up,” Cordova Herrera said in an emailed press statement. “Being in prison you have a lot of time to think, to meditate, and I came to realize how important it is to be part of an organization like Migrant Justice. My freedom is proof of the power of an organized community.”
Earlier this month, border agents detained Jose Luis Cordova Herrera — a 40-year-old undocumented immigrant dairy worker originally from Mexico — shortly after he came out of the dentist’s office in Vermont, the advocacy group Migrant Justice said.
According to the advocacy group, a coworker drove Cordova Herrera to the dentist in Richford on February 8 for an appointment. When he left the health care facility, the group said U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents were in the parking lot waiting for them. The pair drove for eight miles before being pulled over and arrested. Along with Cordova Herrera, his driver — a grandmother and legal permanent resident — was also detained for “four hours, searched, interrogated, threatened, and released,” Migrant Justice said.
Cordova Herrera is now being held at the Strafford County detention center on a $14,000 bail and may be at risk of deportation. The advocacy group also criticized the agency for waiting in the parking lot of a health care facility, reneging on the Department of Homeland Security’s guidance to avoid “sensitive locations” like hospitals, schools, and places of worship so as not to disrupt the daily activities of those areas.
Countering Migrant Justice’s claim, the CBP agency told ThinkProgress that border agents had been conducting routine patrol operations in East Bershire, about four miles south from Richford, and did not go after Cordova Herrera “in the vicinity of any businesses or health care facilities.”
“A vehicle drove by the marked Border Patrol unit and the activities of the occupants were very suspicious,” a CBP spokesperson said. “This behavior, as well as other contributing factors, resulted in the agent conducting a vehicle stop in order to determine the immigration status of the occupants.”
“The male passenger, from Mexico, was determined to be illegally in the United States and was taken into custody,” the CBP spokesperson added. “After processing the case, the subject was turned over to Enforcement Removal Operations.”
Enforcement Removal Operations refers to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency division that handles arrests and deportations. The CBP agency did not give a reason for what was suspicious about this particular encounter with Cordova Herrera and his driver. But Migrant Justice’s Will Lambek told ThinkProgress that it was a “boilerplate excuse” from the agency to “try and hide the true ways in which they operate to terrorize immigrant communities in Vermont and around the country.”
“They made claims about… people acting suspicious in past arrests,” Lambek added, explaining that in a previous arrest, one of the claims that the CBP agency made against someone had been that the individual walked with a backpack, which “gave them reasonable suspicion” that the person had just crossed the border.
As a husband and father of three children, Cordova Herrera came to Vermont to send money back to Mexico to pay for his kids’ school fees, advocates said in a press release. He has been in the country for two years, Lambek said. Cordova Herrera worked on three dairy farms around the state and worked to milk cows and shovel manure to support his family’s medical and daily needs.
Last year, the federal agency deported his brother and nephew. Migrant Justice previously said that a similar arrest took place in 2011 when border agents waited outside the same dentist office for another undocumented immigrant and later pulled him over for “suspicious activity.”
Advocates with Migrant Justice will hold a rally for Cordova Herrera on Tuesday afternoon.
Advocates believe that the detention of undocumented dairy workers like Cordova Herrera has been part of a bigger crackdown on undocumented immigrants in the country following President Donald Trump’s approval of harsher immigration enforcement tactics. Promising to “take the shackles off” federal agents, Trump’s immigration policies to detain any undocumented immigrants regardless of their positive equities have led to the detention of 37,734 undocumented “noncriminal” immigrants by the ICE agency in the 2017 fiscal year.
As a northern border state, Vermont’s immigration enforcement activities generally come from the CBP agency, which has the authority to question people about their immigration status within 100 miles from the border. Cordova Herrera’s detention also shines a light on nationwide dairy industry operations. An estimated 51 percent of the country’s dairy industry is reliant on immigrant labor, according to a 2015 Texas A&M University study. That same report commissioned by the National Milk Producers Federation found that losing these workers would cost the U.S. economy more than $32 billion.
Within Vermont, dairy farms are reliant on the labor produced by the 1,000 to 1,500 undocumented dairy workers like Cordova Herrera to shovel manure and milk cows for 60 to 70-hour a week shifts. After Trump became president, agriculture officials in the state were so concerned about a labor shortage because of the prospects of mass deportation that they discussed emergency workforce proposals to replace workers. According to reporting by Associated Press at the time, those plans included training inmates or hiring temporary workers or foreign workers in the country on a seasonal visa program.