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Advocates say detention of undocumented Syracuse man shows flaws in immigration system

Ellen Abbott

Immigration activists are holding up a Syracuse family as an example of how an aggressive immigration policy is playing out in upstate New York. 

Justino Vixtha was detained by federal immigration officials on his way to work last May, based on a 20-year old deportation order. He hasn’t left a federal detention center in Batavia since, waiting for a court date in a system clogged with increasing deportation orders and arrests. 

All Justino's wife Melissa wants is a chance to get bond set so he can come home to her and their three daughters.

"He’s not a bad guy. He’s done nothing wrong but live his life and try to support his family," said Melissa.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Melissa Vixtha's husband, Justino, was detained by federal ICE agents in May 2019 and has been held in a detention center in Batavia since

Jessica Maxwell, a volunteer with the Syracuse Immigrant and Refugee Defense Network, said this story is only the tip of the iceberg, noting that ICE and Border Patrol arrests in New York are up 25% between 2017 and 2018, with deportation orders skyrocketing by 80% from 2018 to 2019. 

And it’s created prolonged stays for many in detention centers for people like Vixtha.

"People like him, who are doing everything right, trying to cooperate with the system, he had a lawyer trying to address and remove the deportation order," said Maxwell. "That’s exactly who it’s easy for ICE to target, and now they have carte blanche to do exactly that. In fact, they are encouraged to do exactly that. So we are filling up detention centers."

Maxwell said among their goals for 2020 are more state funding to pay for attorneys for immigrants and addressing issues of high bonds and lack of medical care for detainees.

As for the Vixtha family, Melissa is optimistic about a January 13 court date, which she hopes ends with a reasonable bond.

"I mean we’re gonna struggle, but somehow some way I want him home. We have to do what we gotta do to get him home.  He belongs home, he don’t belong there," she said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.