OCEAN PARK — Federal agents have locked up a Mexican man who lives in Ocean Park, and he says they told him it’s because he talked to newspaper reporters after his longtime girlfriend’s immigration arrest.
Baltazar “Rosas” Aburto Gutierrez spoke with the Chinook Observer and Seattle Times after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained his girlfriend in June. He was identified by only his nickname in the Observer, and not by name in the Times.
Aburto Gutierrez, 35, told the Times in a phone interview from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma that he was arrested last Monday morning in Ocean Park, where he lives and works as a clamdigger.
He said an agent told him: “My supervisor asked me to come find you because of what appeared in the newspaper.”
ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley told the Times that the agency doesn’t retaliate as a rule. But when pressed about Aburto Gutierrez’s case, she declined to comment, the Times reported.
“ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy, and at times, exercises prosecutorial discretion when the circumstances of a particular case have extenuating factors like the care of minor children or an alien’s medical condition,” the agency said in a statement sent by Haley.
“This does not mean an alien is exempt from future immigration enforcement,” it added.
Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson told the Observer ICE officials have told him they are removing criminals from the area and that they come looking for specific people to pick up. Johnson said they did add that they sometimes take others too.
“I find it hard to believe they’d happen upon him without targeting him,” the sheriff said of Aburto Gutierrez on Monday evening. “It’s definitely troubling.”
Johnson said agents have not coordinated any recent raids with the sheriff’s office.
“I think that’s because they know our attitude about it,” he said.
Aburto Gutierrez has lived in the U.S. for 18 years and has children with his girlfriend, Gladys Diaz. She was arrested in front of her children when she went to meet with someone who answered an ad she placed to sell a homemade piñata. It turned out to be a sting.
Before the agents took her away, Aburto Guttierez said, they walked her home so she could drop the children off with him. Since he was also in the country illegally, he asked: “Why you don’t take us all?”
Diaz has since been deported and now lives near Puerto Vallarta with their children.
The family’s story was featured by newspapers as examples of the effect of ramped-up deportation efforts under President Donald Trump, which include removing longtime residents with no apparent criminal records. The Observer piece ran in August, the Times piece in early November. A search of Observer archives identifies one interaction between Aburto Gutierrez and local law enforcement, a 2006 ticket for $100 for operating a motor vehicle without liability insurance.
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project legal director Matt Adams said Aburto Gutierrez might have grounds to explore whether ICE violated his free speech rights.
“It certainly is troubling,” Adams said.
Aburto Gutierrez said he cannot afford a lawyer or the $25,000 bond needed to be released from the detention center. He said he has not yet been given a court date.
Diaz sobbed when she discussed his arrest in a phone interview, the Times reported. She said she doesn’t know how she’s going to support the family. He had been sending his earnings to them in Mexico.