Immigration and Customs Enforcement ignored pleas to halt the imminent deportation of the construction worker and whistleblower who survived a deadly worksite collapse that killed three of his coworkers and injured dozens more this past October, separating him from his family the day after Thanksgiving and sending him to Honduras, a country he had not called home for nearly two decades.
Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma, who survived the collapse by swinging from a rope, subsequently filed a lawsuit, along with a number of other survivors, against the project’s developers, “accusing them of causing the collapse by using inadequate materials and supports.” But just hours after he spoke out on Spanish-language media about the collapse, Ramirez Palma was arrested while fishing and turned over to ICE.
ICE refused to stop his deportation—or at least to let him fight his case outside of detention—even as he had become a part of OSHA’s investigation into the collapse. ”But even as one arm of the federal government sought his help,” The New York Times reported, “another pressed ahead with his deportation, in a move that New Orleans officials, immigration advocates and labor lawyers said could have a chilling effect on immigrant workers who encounter safety violations and could also hamper the investigation into the Hard Rock Hotel collapse.”
But that was the point. “His wife, Tania Bueso, said that other undocumented workers her husband had asked her to contact were now afraid to help in the OSHA investigation,” the Times continued. Following his deportation, ICE continued to insist that it was in no way retaliation against the whistleblower, but if this were even slightly true, he would have been allowed to stay until OSHA could at least have finished its investigation. Instead, ICE quickly deported him.
It’s long been clear that ICE—an agency that bills itself as dedicated to the nation’s public safety—is willing to sacrifice that public safety in the name of mass deportation policies targeting people like Ramirez Palma, and is willing to sacrifice public safely even when “retaliating against employees for claiming their rights under federal labor law is illegal, regardless of the worker’s immigration status,” the Times also notes.
“Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma’s deportation leaves every one of us less safe,” said The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, a workers’ rights group that had been advocating in his case. “The next time a building collapses, we will wonder if it could have been prevented if our federal agencies had prioritized answers and accountability for the survivors of Hard Rock, we will wonder if the same bad actors are to blame, and we will wonder if potential whistleblowers kept silent because they saw wha happened to Joel.”