Migrant farmer allowed to return to Vermont following detention

Published: Aug. 2, 2019 at 5:13 PM EDT
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One of the three migrant farm workers picked up by Border Patrol in June is now back home in Vermont. The arrest of the undocumented men and the protest that followed are symbolic of the ongoing debate over immigration across the country.

Twenty-four hours after Ismael Mendez-Lopez was released on bail, he spoke with WCAX News about his monthlong detention and the possibility that he'll be deported back to Mexico.

With a smile on his face, Mendez-Lopez -- through a translator -- said its good to be home. "It's a great relief after being in jail. Being home -- it's a great relief," he said.

The 41-year-old says he made his way to the United States from Mexico over 10 years ago, spending the first few years in Florida. "The conditions in Vermont are much better," Mendez-Lopez said.

And for the last four years, he has joined friends and family working on dairy farms in Vermont. "At the dairy farm, even if it's raining or snowing, you still work," Mendez-Lopez said.

He says he makes about $700 a week after taxes working odd shifts and long hours and sending most of it back home to Mexico. In June, he was with two friends shopping at Walmart in Derby when he was stopped by Border Patrol agents. With no legal documentation to be in the United States, he was taken into custody.

"I said I don't have any. They asked if I knew it was a crime to be in the country without paperwork," Mendez-Lopez said.

He and his friends Mario Diaz-Aguilar and Ubertoni Aguilar-Montero were detained and sent to a holding facility in Dover, New Hampshire. Although Mendez-Lopez entered the U.S. illegally, he says he has never committed a crime in the U.S. and is here to work, doing jobs most people don't want to do on the farms.

"I don't think I am a criminal, but being in this country I feel like one because I don't have the paperwork, he said.

At the detention center, he says the conditions were calm compared to what has been documented on the southern border, but it wasn't a place he wants to go back to.

"You're in a cell where it's hard to communicate with family members, it's hard to communicate with other people. You don't even know cell phone numbers from memory to be able to call family members," he said.

Mendez-Lopez filed a claim for asylum in hopes he'll be allowed to stay in the United States, but he still could face deportation. For now, his fiance -- who did not want to be identified -- is happy to have him home.

"Now that he is home, it's kind of all hitting me what really just happened and what could have happened. It could have been a much worse outcome," she said.

As long as he continues to show up to court, he's not worried about further run-ins with Border Patrol. He says he wants to become an American citizen and that he is sharing his story because many others can't.

"Some of us don't have the opportunity to say something. Some of us have fear, but I am not fearful and I want to say this story," Mendez-Lopez said.

He says his old job on a farm was replaced but he is looking to get back on the farm. As for his two friends -- they decided to not go through the court process and have been sent back to Mexico.