Have you ever been deported?

by Gary McGoffin

I have. All as a consequence of the impact of political spoils on immigration and international travel.

The McGoffins (from left): Eric, Stephen, Thelmi, Matthew and Gary

I have. In 1979, with my lovely bride on our honeymoon in Mexico. All as a consequence of the impact of political spoils on immigration and international travel.

Thelmi was a Nicaraguan citizen and obtained her honeymoon visa for Mexico from the Nicaraguan Consulate in New Orleans. Six weeks later, we were deported from Mexico because of a Nicaraguan regime change during the interim — the visa had to have been issued from Mexico City rather than through the Nicaraguan Consulate.

President Anastasio Somoza resigned and fled Nicaragua on July 17, 1979, just three weeks after Thelmi had received her visa and just prior to our Aug. 11 wedding. Even though Thelmi had timely obtained her visa to Mexico, she was never contacted by the consulate to let her know that the rules had changed. As a result, her visa was invalid, we were detained the night of our arrival and were deported back to New Orleans the next day. We forfeited our pre-paid honeymoon trip to Mexico.

Following our abrupt return to New Orleans, we met with the Nicaraguan Consulate, were advised of the rule change and that we were the unfortunate first to be the victims of that change. When asked how they would rectify their mistake, they invoked sovereign immunity. There was no satisfaction other than the fact that we were back in the good old USA.

We later learned that Mexico changed the visa policy because it was pro-Sandinista/anti-Somoza and presumed that any Nicaraguan in Mexico following Somoza’s departure from Nicaragua was likely to be pro-Somoza. After all, the Sandinistas were peasants who couldn’t afford to travel with a passport.

That presumption was especially ironic in Thelmi’s case. Somoza’s failed attempt to muscle in on her father’s cattle export business was punished by Somoza changing the cattle export laws. Equally ironic, her father’s college roommate and her brother’s godfather, John Gavin, was later named the US ambassador to Mexico.

The deportation officials did not speak English. I did not speak Spanish. Thelmi handled the highly charged discussions. She even showed them our New Orleans wedding invitation to prove we were not Nicaraguan refugees. But, no matter. We were deported without recourse and without fault.

Does this sound strangely familiar?

In January, The Daily Advertiser raised the question “Is Lafayette Still a Sanctuary City?” Two months later, its front page asked “Did Marshal’s Office Target Hispanics?”

Both issues have a common source, Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope.

Is Lafayette still a 'sanctuary city'?

It is Marshal Pope who first promoted Lafayette as a “sanctuary city” at his official Oct. 7, 2015, press conference on “immigration” and the Lafayette Parish sheriff’s election. His written press release and his public statement that day claimed 661 warrants for illegal Hispanic aliens in the city of Lafayette. He reaffirmed that number in open court under oath on Dec. 14, 2015 in his public records hearing testimony.

But it was “fake news.” Under oath again two weeks later in a video trial deposition, he could not identify a single warrant for a single illegal alien, much less 661 — regardless of whether they were Hispanic/Spanish, white, black, Asian, Indian or “other.”

Worse, it was “fake news” scripted by the campaign advisor to his preferred candidate for Lafayette sheriff. Marshal Pope denied that fact under oath, resulting in a felony perjury indictment, six related felony charges and criminal contempt of court.

Unfortunately, the consequences of Marshal Pope’s acts have not been limited to him. References to Lafayette as a “sanctuary city” have since proliferated, including national publication in USA Today. Last summer, the Louisiana Legislature considered a bill banning “sanctuary cities,” citing Lafayette and New Orleans as examples.

The truth is that Lafayette Parish complied with the federal immigration detainer policy promulgated in 2012. Only the anti-immigration think-tank Center for Immigration Studies and our very own Marshal Pope have claimed to the contrary; both for their own political purposes.

Did marshal’s office target Hispanics?

With one important qualification, the answer is YES. Marshal Pope does target Hispanics. His sworn testimony and the court transcript in his public records lawsuit with The Independent document it.

However, that is limited to Marshal Pope personally, not to his office. That is the qualification. There is nothing in the court records to indicate that any city marshal employee did anything but follow Marshal Pope’s orders. Or as he stated under oath, “They work at my pleasure.” Such was depicted in the photograph with the four on-duty deputies literally standing as an official backdrop to the podium with Marshal Pope at his bogus immigration press conference.

He started with the October 2015 press release denouncing Mark Garber as a candidate for sheriff stating, “ actually travel to Central America and do a television interview to get the word out that illegal immigrants can come to Louisiana, and file worker’s compensation claims without fear of being deported is ... irresponsible.”

On Dec. 14 of that year, Pope testified under oath in open court that “We currently have 611 arrest warrants for illegal aliens in this — in this city... I just know from what city court has. I’m not sure what district court has. I’m sure it’s more than that.”

Then, in his Dec. 28, 2015, video trial deposition, Pope chose to selectively portray the Hispanic/Spanish problem by ignoring the 4,155 black warrants and 3,874 white warrants, instead focusing exclusively on the “non-black, non-white” warrants to support his claim that “the Spanish have overwhelmingly larger numbers at [611].”

Later in that deposition, he finally acknowledged that of the 611 arrest warrants he referenced only 80 were actually documented to be Hispanic, and he could not identify even one that was an illegal immigrant. The other 531 were actually “other” that he simply lumped together with the 80 Hispanics to reach 611.

In fact, Marshal Pope took absolutely no action to pursue his “illegal immigrant” criminal “investigation” after the press conference.

Then at the Jan. 4, 2016, public records hearing, Pope’s defense called Scott Police Chief Chad Leger to the stand for the following question: “From your perspective as the chief of police, have you noticed an increase in Latinos moving into your community?”

The Court requested an explanation for the relevance of that question, asking, “Why are we getting into this ethnicity of anybody?” Pope’s attorney replied, “Although it may be offensive, I think the issue is that Marshal Pope has testified that with respect to Latino, Hispanics, however you want to say it, it’s created a problem for the community in terms of them getting arrested, getting let out, not properly ID'd, not properly fingerprinted and going out and committing other crimes.”

The judge followed up: “So is their ethnicity that which is relevant, or their status to be in the country, their lawful capacity to be in the country? Which one of those two things is relevant to this proceeding?” To which the reply was, “Not the latter. The former would be.”

My family of immigrants

I am descended from German and Irish immigrants. Thelmi was born in Nicaragua. One of our sons married a Ukrainian immigrant. Our grandson’s mother is from the Dominican Republic. One of my great grandfathers was a German WWI draft dodger who stowed away to America and swam ashore.

I have lived and traveled confidently as an American citizen along with my extended immigrant family. However, the fact that the political spoils game with immigration is festering in my hometown is more threatening than being deported on my honeymoon.

International events may be beyond our influence, but ridding ourselves of the myth of the sanctuary city and the reality of targeting Hispanics is firmly within our control. It starts with knowing the facts. It is achieved by confronting those facts openly and honestly as a community. History, including my own family history, has proven that it will only strengthen us.

Gary McGoffin is a Lafayette attorney and vice president of board development for Boy Scouts of America’s Evangeline Area Council. He also serves as legal counsel for IND Media, parent company of The Independent.