October 1, 2020 at 9:19 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
ICE arrests gay Va. man after traffic stop
From left: Josh Ayala and his partner, Luis Valladares Cruz. (Photo courtesy of Josh Ayala)

A gay man in Virginia says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested his partner last month after they pulled over his car.

Luis Valladares Cruz’s partner, Josh Ayala, told the Washington Blade last week during a telephone interview that they left their home in Woodbridge early on Aug. 13 to go to Starbucks. Ayala said he and Valladares left their neighborhood and then saw “flashing lights behind us” once they drove onto Old Bridge Road.

“We pulled to the side (of the road),” Ayala told the Blade.

Ayala said he and Valladares assumed it was a “routine police stop.”

“I really thought they were just police,” said Ayala. “We pulled off to the side (of the road.) It happened so quick, I didn’t even see when they got out.”

Ayala said four men who did not identify themselves as ICE agents surrounded the car. Ayala conceded to the Blade the car’s license plates had expired, but he said he explained to the agents that he had gone to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles two days earlier to renew them. Ayala told the Blade he then showed them his registration and asked why they had stopped him.

“We’re stopping you because your vehicle matches the description of a vehicle affiliated with a crime in this area,” said one of the agents, according to Ayala.

Ayala said he and Valladares then gave the agents their IDs.

“Literally in three seconds he gives back mine, but with his identification when he shows it to them, that’s when they immediately are like, get out of the vehicle. We’re here for you,” Ayala told the Blade, referring to Valladares. “We have a warrant for your arrest, and I was in shock.”

Ayala told the Blade the same agents a year earlier stopped them and identified themselves as “undercover cops.” Ayala said he asked them why they were arresting Valladares and requested to see a warrant, but they did not show him.

A portion of the arrest that Ayala recorded on his cell phone shows Valladares standing behind the car with three masked agents.

Ayala told the Blade he later figured out ICE had arrested Valladares when the Prince William County Police Department confirmed it did not have any outstanding warrants for him. Ayala in a second tweet posted a recording of a phone call he received from Valladares after he arrived at the Caroline Detention Facility in Bowling Green, Va.

“They took me to Target over there by the house and they slammed me on the floor,” Valladares told Ayala, speaking through tears as he recalled his arrest. “I was screaming in the parking lot because they had a car hiding over there at the Target where they have this construction site. They took me over there, babe.”

“They tried to slam me in the car and I kept putting my feet against the car because I didn’t want to get deported … they kept doing it and doing it,” said Valladares. “My hands are all bruised up. My skin is ripped apart on both of my hands … they grabbed the handcuffs and they put them so tight and they picked me up in my handcuffs and they scrapped my skin off my hands.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday in a statement to the Blade confirmed ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officers arrested Valladares near his home in Woodbridge on Aug. 13.

“ERO officers targeted Valladares-Cruz for immigration enforcement based on the fact that he is subject to a final order of removal issued by an immigration judge,” said the spokesperson.

Ayala told the Blade that ICE told him the deportation order stems from Valladares’ failure to appear in court when he was 7. The ICE spokesperson noted “ICE records indicate” Valladares “has an outstanding criminal arrest warrant in the state of Georgia for failure to appear for an April 2016 charge for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.”

Ayala continues to strongly dispute the charge against Valladares.

“The marijuana wasn’t his: Point blank, period,” said Ayala. “I don’t know why they keep saying that.”

Ayala told the Blade the person who was with Valladares in Georgia “already confessed” the marijuana was his and is currently in prison for other charges.

“ICE is basically using whatever they want to use against him to make him look bad,” said Ayala, referring to Valladares.

The ICE spokesperson also disputed Ayala’s claim the officers who arrested Valladares did not disclose their affiliation.

“ICE officers conducted the traffic stop to arrest Valladares-Cruz, the intended target of the enforcement action, for immigration violations,” said the spokesperson. “They did not claim to represent any other law enforcement agency or purpose. While ICE officers travel in unmarked vehicles, they can easily be identified by their agency-branded badges and protective gear. ICE officers are sworn federal law enforcement officers who enforce laws enacted by Congress.”

More than 30 coronavirus cases at Valladares’ detention center

Valladares, 25, is originally from Honduras, a country in Central America where violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace.

The officers arrested Valladares roughly two months after Prince William County ended its cooperation agreement with ICE. Advocates and elected officials have also accused ICE of not doing enough to protect detainees from the coronavirus.

ICE on its website notes as of 2:55 p.m. on Tuesday there were 31 detainees with confirmed coronavirus cases at the Caroline Detention Center.

Ayala said Valladares has tested positive for coronavirus and is currently in isolation.

“It just really pisses me off … how inconsiderate they are and how they let that happen,” said Ayala. “They don’t care.”

Ayala said Valladares’ deportation hearing has not been scheduled. The Blade’s efforts to reach Valladares’ lawyer for comment have thus far been unsuccessful.

“He’s really going crazy and is paranoid,” said Ayala.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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