A well-known immigration activist in West Michigan says he’s trying to stay optimistic after being arrested this week to face possible deportation.
Brandon Reyes is currently in the Calhoun County Correction Facility, which has an agreement to hold immigration detainees. Reyes grew up in Grand Rapids and is part of the “Dreamer” generation of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. He was enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was created to protect young immigrants from deportation.
"I'm feeling good right now," Reyes told Michigan Radio, on a call from the Calhoun County Correctional Facility. "It's a different experience being in here. Not something I'm used to."
Reyes is known locally in Grand Rapids as an outspoken advocate for immigration reform. He's spoken at rallies, and traveled to Lansing and Washington D.C. to meet with policymakers.
Officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Reyes Wednesday, along with his mom. Reyes says he was on his way to work.
“Being all in chains is not a good feeling,” Reyes said “And seeing your mom – that kind of was the worst part for me, seeing her being taken.”
A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement noted that Reyes was convicted of a DUI last year. Driving under the influence can be considered a “significant misdemeanor” by immigration authorities, and can be used as a reason to revoke an immigrant’s DACA protections.
“There is a way that Department of Homeland Security can terminate DACA,” says West Michigan immigration attorney Richard Kessler, who’s involved in Reyes’ case. “As far as I understand they did not do that yet in his case. I don’t know if they’re in the process of doing that.”
Reyes says he pled guilty last year to a charge of Operating While Intoxicated. He wasn’t jailed for the offense, and he’s been cooperating with the terms of his probation in the hopes it wouldn’t hurt his record, or his DACA status.
“I agree what they’re saying, the statement that they’re saying, it’s true,” Reyes says. “But I say like, we all make mistakes.”
And Reyes says, in either case, his mother didn’t do anything wrong.
“If they were just looking for me, they should have just taken me," he says, "not my mom.”
Losing both Reyes and his mother has been hard on the rest of the family as well.
“Our house has been really quiet not having both of them,” says Nelly Gudino, who spoke at a press conference at attorney Richard Kessler’s office on Friday.
Gudino shares a house with Reyes, his mother and his two young sisters, who are U.S. citizens.
“The two little girls are worried,” Gudino said, with tears running down her cheeks. “They don’t know that they’re gone. They just know that they’re not in the household with us anymore, for now. They ask for them. They ask for Brandon.”
News of Reyes’ arrest and detention also hit hard among the community of immigrant rights activists in West Michigan, where Reyes is well-known.
Reyes has been active in the community since the 2016 election. He spoke on Michigan Radio’s State of Opportunity project in 2017, shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“The hope is still there, but fear is really intense,” he said then. “I’m still going to be positive. But things are kinda getting scarier.”
Since then, Reyes has continued to share his story publicly, speaking at immigration rights rallies and meeting with elected officials. A spokesperson for Governor Whitmer confirms Reyes was at a roundtable event with Whitmer before she became governor. Reyes also visited the office of Congressman Justin Amash.
“It’s disheartening in our community how he’s been held and treated like a criminal,” says Gema Lowe, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha GR who's worked with Reyes. “He’s an active member of the community. He’s going to work, he’s going to school. He’s just a pillar in the community.”
Reyes’ work as an outspoken activist has also caused some to suspect he may have been targeted specifically by immigration enforcement.
“It’s hard to say that this was not retaliatory in nature in any way,” says attorney Hillary Scholten with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. “Here you have an outspoken activist with Movimiento Cosecha who has been speaking out against ICE’s activities in our community. And, you know, he did have a DUI, but that was in June.”
If immigration officers believed Reyes was a threat to the community, Scholten says, he could have been taken into custody last year when he was arrested for the DUI.
“I don’t know why it took them this long to pick him up,” says attorney Richard Kessler. “It’s one of these mysteries to the way they operate.”
Another mystery, for now, is how long Reyes and his mother will remain in the jail awaiting their deportation proceedings. Attorneys working on the case say their hope is that the two can be released on bond in the coming weeks. Neither Reyes nor his mother have been ordered deported by an immigration judge. Kessler says it could be more than a year before Reyes even gets a hearing. He’s hoping the family can pay a bond to have them released back to the community while they wait.
Community members have set up an online fundraising campaign to pay for legal fees and support the family while Reyes and his mother are in detention. The campaign has already raised more than $11,000.