NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—German Nieto was taken into custody by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents after they broke into his home pointing guns at his family on the morning of January 5.
According to Nieto's family, who has lived on Lawrence Street for more than a decade, the authorities were looking for someone else when they arrived, but ultimately decided to take Nieto to jail after the botched 6am raid.
In the course of the raid, agents allegedly stepped on the head of a young man and a 14-year-old child, who happens to be a US citizen, and handcuffed a 62-year-old man.
The raid comes amid rumors and policy discussion surrounding massive immigration raids throughout the country, two days before ICE publicly denied they were forcing their way into homes in New Jersey.
Nieto, a 21-year-old graduate of New Brunswick High School is currently being held in Essex County Jail, and has a lawyer prepared to represent him in federal immigration court.
He has not been charged with any crimes, did not have an "order of removal," and was recently granted "deferred action," a step towards legal residency under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Nieto arrived in New Brunswick as a three-year-old, when his family immigrated from Mexico.
"It seems like ICE is actively trying to take away what the President has done," said Oscar Barbosa, an immigration attorney representing Nieto.
But the Department of Homeland Security defended the raids in general, saying they "must enforce the law."
"I know there are many who loudly condemn our enforcement efforts as far too harsh, while there will be others who say these actions don't go far enough. I also recognize the reality of the pain that deportations do in fact cause. But, we must enforce the law consistent with our priorities," said Jeh Johnson, a New Jersey resident who serves as Obama's Director of Homeland Security.
But it's not clear what law it was that the ICE agents were on Lawrence Street that day.
The agents started by banging on the doors to the home, saying they were there for a person named "Rodriguez."
But no one with that name lives in the home, so the residents declined to open up. Shortly thereafter, agents entered the backyard, took down the back door to the home, and forced their way in with guns drawn, pointing them directly at the family, including little children.
The ICE agents threw Nieto's older brother and young niece on the floor, the family said. And to the surprise of everyone, they took German with them.
"They told him they wanted to question about gangs," said Barbosa, who believes Nieto was profiled because he has religious tattoos.
"He's not a gang member," said Barbosa, who told reporters Nieto was a good family man who worked at a tire shop.
"The case of German and his family highlights the level abuse and injustice that exists within the culture of detention and deportation being carried out by ICE in NJ and across the country," said Carlos Rojas, an Organizer with Faith in New Jersey.
""The advocates will continue to work with immigrant communities to expose these violations of constitutional rights. No human being should be treated this way."
"ICE agents broke down the door after being denied entrance," said Rojas, "entered the family's home with military weapons, kicked German's brother in the face after he tried to comfort his crying daughter and took German who has been given work authorization by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to remain legally in the country."
According to the family, nearly a dozen armed agents were involved in the raid, but the agency denied "kicking down doors" the following day.
Alvin Phillips, the New Jersey spokesperson for ICE, said Thursday afternoon those stories were false.
"There have been no raids in New Jersey, no doors have been kicked down," Phillips said. "In Freehold people were stopped and let go."
Across the nation more than 100 undocumented immigrants, mainly from Georgia, Texas and North Carolina were targeted for deportation this past weekend, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson confirmed in a statement on Monday.
"As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration," Johnson said in the statement. "If you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values."
ICE said in a statement it's targeting the influx of families with minors who fled violence from Central America in the spring/summer of 2014 and have since lost their cases to stay in the country.
Advocates for the Mexican community said they were concerned that what happened to Nieto could happen to others in New Brunswick and elsewhere.
Teresa Vivar, a Mexican immigrant and founder of the non-profit Lazos America Unida, said, "We, as a community, we worry about what is going to come next."