Federal prosecutors last week dropped an immigration charge against a Guatemalan man arrested Sept. 19 after the U.S. Border Patrol said agents followed a family who looked Central American into a Bangor thrift shop and overheard them speaking Spanish.
Mateo Carmelo-Bartolo, 31, still could face removal proceedings in immigration court, according to his attorney, Ronald Bourget of Augusta. But prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office for Maine have dropped the felony charge of re-entry after removal charge Carmelo-Bartolo was facing.
Carmelo-Bartolo remained at the Somerset County Jail on Monday unable to be released because of an immigration detainer, according to jail personnel.
Information about when he might appear before an immigration judge in Boston was not available Monday afternoon.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCormack said in his notice of dismissal, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, that pursuing the federal felony charge of re-entry after removal was not “in the interest of justice.”
The federal prosecutor’s office on Monday declined to comment on the case.
If the case had gone forward, Bourget said he would have sought to have the charge dismissed because the agents apparently admitted to using Carmelo-Bartolo’s race and language as the reason to question him prior to his arrest.
“I suspect that the government reviewed how that would come forward in a criminal case and decided to dismiss the charge,” Bourget said.
A Border Patrol agent wrote in the court affidavit in support of Carmelo-Bartolo’s arrest that agents on patrol in Bangor noticed a family that “appeared to be of Central-American origin,” and the agents followed the family into the Goodwill store on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor where they “overheard several people speaking Spanish.” The agents then approached the group and asked where they were from.
The Supreme Court has ruled that immigration authorities cannot target people solely based on their racial appearance, and the Border Patrol agent listed no other reason for questioning Carmelo-Bartolo and his family.
Carmelo-Bartolo was with his wife, his brother, his sister-in-law and two children, all of whom are from Guatemala, when he was taken into custody, the affidavit said. His family members also are facing removal proceedings in immigration court.
Carmelo-Bartolo previously was deported in 2007 and 2010, and told agents he had returned in 2013, the affidavit said. Carmelo-Bartolo agreed to be held without bail when he first appeared before a judge on the criminal charge last month.
If convicted, he faced up to two years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Carmelo-Bartelo also faced deportation after serving his sentence.
Legal experts on immigration earlier this month told the BDN that it was not surprising that Border Patrol agents had relied on race as the basis for questioning a family. What was surprising, they said, was that they apparently admitted to it in writing.
On Monday, Emma Bond, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the organization was pleased to learn of the dismissal.
“Racial profiling is wrong. Law enforcement cannot target people on the basis of their race or national origin,” she said. “Dismissal of the case is, indeed, ‘in the interest of justice.’”