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Lynn Immigrant Sees Path To Citizenship After Landlord's Alleged Threat To Call ICE02:53
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Robelio Gonzalez looks on as his attorney Susan Church reviews papers he was given before being released by ICE. (Simón Rios/WBUR)
Robelio Gonzalez looks on as his attorney Susan Church reviews papers he was given before being released by ICE. (Simón Rios/WBUR)

Robelio Gonzalez alleges his landlord threatened to call immigration after he started withholding rent over a series of code violations in his apartment.

Earlier this month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained Gonzalez — a laborer from Guatemala who says his only crime was to stand up for his rights.

The agents let him go on the condition that he report to ICE headquarters in Burlington three weeks later. And on Friday afternoon, he walked into the building not knowing whether he’d be allowed out.

Two hours later, Gonzalez appeared in front of a jubilant group of supporters and family with an electronic monitor strapped to his ankle and a temporary reprieve.

"Now I’m going to continue to speak out," he said in Spanish, "so that others like me - who stay quiet out of fear - realize there’s support out there."

Gonzalez walked into the meeting with the backing of Attorney General Maura Healey and members of the state’s Congressional delegation. The AG’s office is investigating Gonzalez’s landlord over the allegation that he threatened to call ICE multiple times in retaliation for Gonzalez asserting his rights as a tenant.

An assistant attorney general said Gonzalez should not be deported because he’s a key witness in the investigation.

Gonzalez's landlord, She-Ling Wang of Lincoln, denies calling ICE on his tenant. A spokesperson from ICE declined to comment on the case.

But attorney Susan Church praised the agency's decision to let her client go.

“He doesn't have any sort of criminal history that would justify detention," she said. "It sets a bad precedent to arrest somebody who is speaking out against a problematic and criminal landlord, and I think ICE made the right decision here."

Asked about the exact terms of Gonzalez’ release, Church had to turn to her client.

“Can I see the papers they gave you?" she asked.

As Church read through the papers, a big grin spread across her face.

"They gave him until April of 2021 to report back again," she said.

A reporter asked: "And that's plenty of time?"

"No," Church said, "but it’s a start.”

Church said Gonzalez can use the next six months to fix his immigration status. He’s optimistic that there’s a pathway to citizenship, because he’s helping with the investigation into his landlord, and that could qualify him for a type of visa awarded to immigrants who cooperate with law enforcement.

Asked whether he thinks his landlord might have done him a favor by reporting him, Gonzalez laughed.

"There’s no bad thing that doesn’t come for some good reason," he said.

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Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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