A Honduran construction worker who attempted to warn about unsafe conditions prior to last month's deadly partial collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans was deported by U.S. immigration authorities on Friday, his lawyers confirmed.
Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma was arrested by immigration officials two days after the 18-story hotel fell onto a busy downtown intersection on Oct. 12, killing three people and injuring dozens.
He managed to survive the collapse after falling from the ninth to the sixth floor by swinging from a rope, according to The Guardian.
He was hospitalized with serious injuries, including head trauma, an acute eye injury and internal inflammation, according to his wife and lawyers.
Following the incident, Ramirez Pena was interviewed by a Spanish-language media outlet. Two days later, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested him while he was fishing with his family at a wildlife refuge, according to reports.
They moved him to an immigration holding facility at the Alexandria International Airport in central Louisiana last week, as ICE agents prepared to deport him.
His attorneys argued that because Ramirez Palma was outspoken about the unsafe conditions, deporting him could have impacted the investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration into what caused the collapse.
They said undocumented immigrants are usually hesitant to talk with federal investigators about what happened due to fear of deportation.
“I am sure the Hispanic workers there [at Hard Rock] don’t want to cooperate for the same reason. They are scared the same thing that happened to Joel can happen to them,” his wife, Tania Bueso, told Nola.com.
Some of the safety concerns he attempted to shed light on included asymmetrical building measurements and uncured concrete that couldn't support enough weight, his lawyers and wife say.
“He talks about how this disaster could have been avoided if they had paid more attention when they could see -- clearly -- that the building, in some areas, wasn’t right,” Bueso told the outlet. “When he used the laser [measurement tool], he also said he had to check two or three times to make sure the measurement was right because the building was so imbalanced.”
Ramirez Palma was ordered to be deported in 2016 and he lacks legal authorization to work in the U.S. He filed a stay of deportation earlier this year.
A letter addressed to William Joyce, the New Orleans field office director of ICE, on Nov. 27 urged the agency to release Ramirez Palma.
“In the aftermath of a disaster of this scale, the public needs all available information to understand what happened at the worksite, including information from Mr. Ramirez Palma and workers like him who witnessed safety violations before the collapse,” wrote Ava Dejoie, the secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC), per The Guardian. “If he is deported, the public may never know what key information is being deported with him. The investigations will undoubtedly suffer.”
He was expected to be deported on Monday, but that was delayed for unknown reasons, according to the outlet. He lived with his wife and three children in New Orleans for 18 years.