ICE releases Gravesend man whose relative was shot in face during his arrest

traffic safety
Witnesses to the shooting of Erick Diaz-Cruz in Gravesend raise their hands
Photo by Todd Maisel

A Gravesend man whose girlfriend’s son was shot in the face when border agents arrested him in February was released from ICE custody on Wednesday.

A federal judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release Gaspar Avendano-Hernandez, 33, from the Hudson County jail on April 1 in response to the uptick in COVID-19 cases at the facility, authorities announced. 

The order comes as a win for detainees and immigrant rights activists, who have fought for the inmates’ release, particularly as COVID-19 ravages detention centers. About 300 inmates and staffers across city jails have contracted the virus so far. New Jersey’s four ICE detention centers have seven confirmed cases, according to the federal agency.

On Feb. 6, an ICE agent shot the son of Avendano-Hernandez’s longtime girlfriend in the face while trying to arrest Avendano-Hernandez — sparking national outcry.

Border patrol agents arrived at Avendano-Hernandez’s W. 12th Street home at around 8:15 am to arrest the 33-year-old Mexican man before 26-year-old Erick Diaz-Cruz intervened. An ICE agent fired at him, striking his hand and his cheek.

Paramedics rushed Diaz-Cruz to Maimonides Medical Center, where he underwent two surgeries and was released six days later, his family said. Diaz-Cruz has since filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York to seek damages for the shooting, which lodged a bullet in his neck for life and caused vision loss in his left eye, among other injuries, the complaint said.

Diaz-Cruz has legal immigration papers, according to the Consulate General of Mexico in New York, while Avendano-Hernandez is allegedly undocumented. In a statement, ICE claimed that the suspect is “a twice-removed illegal alien from Mexico with a 2011 assault conviction in New York City” who they arrested because of a recent traffic stop. 

Following the shooting, activists gathered outside Maimonides Medical Center to denounce ICE, and on Feb. 16, supporters held a candlelight vigil near the family’s Gravesend home in solidarity with Avendano-Hernandez and Diaz-Cruz. 

Avendano-Hernandez is one of several inmates who has been released from ICE’s custody because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 26, a judge ordered that ICE release 10 detainees from New Jersey jails with underlying conditions, and immigration attorneys and advocates say they will continue working towards inmates’ release.

“We are deeply grateful that the federal court intervened to order Gaspar’s release, and we hope that more courts – and the public – will continue to pressure ICE until it frees everyone in its custody,” said Alina Das, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic and one of Avendano-Hernandez’s attorneys.

Avendano-Hernandez will remain back home in Gravesend for the duration of his pending federal immigration case, activists said.