SEATTLE — A man who recounted his longtime girlfriend’s arrest in a Seattle Times story about ramped-up immigration enforcement in Pacific County last month has now been detained, and says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents told him the arrest was because he was in the newspaper.
Baltazar “Rosas” Aburto Gutierrez, speaking by phone from the Northwest Detention Center, where he is being held, said he got off work about 4 a.m. Monday — he harvests clams around Willapa Bay — went back to his Ocean Park home and, a few hours later, headed to Okie’s Thriftway Market for coffee and eggs.
An SUV blocked his path into the parking lot, he said. An ICE agent got out and approached his car.
“You are Rosas,” the agent said, according to Aburto Gutierrez. “You are the one from the newspaper.”
Aburto Gutierrez, 35, was not identified by name in The Seattle Times, though his nickname appeared in the Chinook Observer in an August story about his girlfriend, Gladys Diaz, and her arrest by immigration officials who he said answered an online ad she placed to sell a homemade pinata.
After Aburto Gutierrez parked and faced the agent, he asked: “Why are you arresting me?”
“My supervisor asked me to come find you because of what appeared in the newspaper,” the agent said, according to Aburto Gutierrez, relating the conversation in Spanish. The agent spoke in English, not a language the Mexican-born Aburto Gutierrez speaks fluently.
Aburto Gutierrez said he nevertheless understood — and concluded that his arrest was retaliation.
“We don’t retaliate,” ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley, speaking generally, told The Seattle Times when initially asked about Aburto Gutierrez’s arrest. She said she would look into this case specifically and provide more information.
She later sent a written statement that confirmed his arrest and detention but said nothing about whether ICE was retaliating against Aburto Gutierrez, or what role the newspaper story might have played in his arrest. Pressed on those points by phone, Haley declined to comment.
“It certainly is troubling,” said Northwest Immigrant Rights Project legal director Matt Adams when told Aburto Gutierrez’s account of his arrest. Adams said there might be grounds for exploring whether ICE’s actions violated Aburto Gutierrez’s right to free speech.