Friday, September 5, 2008

Unicoi officials say Hispanics headed for deportation set free on interstate (Kingsport Times News)

Unicoi officials say Hispanics headed for deportation set free on interstate
Men arrested in Unicoi County released after hurricane closes New Orleans customs office.

Published 09/05/2008
By Jim Wozniak

ERWIN — Two Hispanic men on their way to Knoxville as part of the deportation process were released Tuesday before they arrived, Unicoi County authorities said Thursday.

County Jailer Rita Williams said superiors of two Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees ordered Gregorio Estala Rodriguez and Primitivo Estala Rodriguez to be let go because the New Orleans office, where the men eventually were headed, had been closed temporarily due to Hurricane Gustav.

“It’s frustrating for us to know that we got illegal aliens that are breaking the law,” Sheriff Kent Harris said Thursday. “That’s a group we don’t want to have here.

“I felt like when they left the jail here that there would be at least some justice because they were going to be deported back to their country. There’s a legal way to get here. That’s what they need to do is come legally.”

Efforts to contact someone from ICE for comment were unsuccessful. Harris said he did not blame the local agents for what transpired.

Gregorio Rodriguez, 32, who was living in Erwin, pleaded guilty Aug. 28 in Unicoi County Sessions Court to possession of schedule II drugs, possession of a weapon and violation of the open container law. A charge of not having a driver’s license was dismissed.

Primitivo Rodriguez, 21, who also was living here, pleaded guilty to having no insurance and no license. A charge of possession of schedule II drugs for resale was dismissed.

The men were released on their county charges on time served, but Harris said they were held until Tuesday, when ICE representatives came to get them.

Williams said the men and the ICE agents were on Interstate 81 heading to Knoxville when they called the jail.

“They called back and said that their boss said to turn them loose because where they’re having the hurricanes in Louisiana; that is their last stopping place before they deport them,” she said. “They said because of the hurricanes and stuff to let them go because they had no place to put them at Louisiana.”

She said the agents released the two men on the interstate.

According to Williams, this is the first time a situation like this has occurred in the eight years she has worked for the county jail.

She said ICE agents called the jail to explain the situation in case anyone saw the men and wondered why they had not been deported.

Harris said Gregorio Rodriguez was drinking a beer on Aug. 16 while driving on Railroad Street. Authorities asked him about a wanted man possibly being at his residence, and Rodriguez would not let them search it, the sheriff said. Rodriguez said he had a gun in his mobile home.

Using a search warrant, authorities found a switchblade knife, a 6-inch knife, a clip to a gun, ammunition and three small baggies of cocaine, Harris said.

Primitivo Rodriguez drove up to the residence and was unable to show proof of insurance, K-9 Deputy Shane Hawkins said. Hawkins said the man told him that he did not have a license.

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