KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City, Missouri, immigration attorney is at the center of a lawsuit filed against two Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri last week.
The lawsuit stems from an incident in June 2018 in which Andrea Martinez said an ICE agent pushed her to the ground.
Martinez said she suffered a fracture in her foot and a concussion as a result.
"Certainly, I'm the one filing the lawsuit because it's what happened to me. But, in my mind, it's bigger than that. It's really dedicated to all the immigrants who have suffered at the hands of ICE, who have been mistreated, who have not been able to sue — either because they were deported too quickly, or because they just didn't have access to the resources to sue the Department of Homeland Security," Martinez said.
Martinez and her colleague Megan Galicia were escorting their clients, 3-year-old Noah and his stepfather Luis Diaz-Inestroza, into an ICE facility so they could say goodbye to Kenia Bautista-Mayorga, a woman who, at five-months pregnant, was being deported to Honduras along with her son.
The incident was captured on camera and is shown in the Netflix docuseries “Living Undocumented” released earlier this month which, in part, focuses on Bautista-Mayorga and Diaz-Inestroza’s cases.
The video shows that as Martinez and Galicia try to enter the facility behind their clients, ICE agents close the doors and Martinez falls to the ground.
Protesters and Netflix’s film crew were present.
Martinez alleges the same ICE agent who pushed her then allowed her inside, but locked her in a room with her client and tried to access information on her cellphone.
Martinez also alleges the ICE agent denied her access to medical care for her injuries.
Medical crews were eventually allowed into the building, and Martinez can be seen being rolled out on a stretcher in the second episode of the Netflix series.
"If an attorney, on camera, is assaulted by ICE agents in front of 40 observers, just imagine how immigrants are being treated in private ICE detention facilities," Martinez said.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Timothy Garrison declined to file criminal charges in the incident, writing in a Jan. 31, 2019 press release, “In light of circumstances created by more than 30 people who came to a routine law enforcement operation at 3 a.m. for the purpose of making a spectacle, the officer’s actions were justified in order to secure and control access to the ICE office entrance from unauthorized persons.”
Martinez said a civil lawsuit through the ACLU is the next avenue for legal action since no criminal charges were filed against the ICE agent.
Diaz-Inestroza was taken into custody as he said goodbye to his wife and remained in the Morgan County, Missouri, jail for eight weeks until he posted bond.
Now, Diaz-Inestroza and Bautista-Mayorga have been reunited in the United States as they continue to try to obtain legal status, Martinez said.
They are seeking asylum, but could wait years for a ruling due to the backlog in immigration courts.
Martinez said she believes there is a huge need for immigration reform in the United States, and hopes her case can play a role in it.
"I think the docuseries is really important to address the question of 'Why don't people come to the United States legally?' And the answer is, very clearly, there are not enough legal routes in the United States immigration law to allow immigrants to come to the United States legally. The system has to be reformed," Martinez said.
In the meantime, Martinez and Galicia must continue interacting with the ICE agents against whom the ACLU lawsuit is filed as they help more clients.
"It's still a strange world that we're living and working in because those ICE agents are still in their jobs, and we still work with them every day. They didn't lose their jobs after they assaulted to attorneys and broke my foot," Martinez said. "We have to continue to fight. We have to act like nothing happened for our clients' sake."