Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma, the construction worker who raised concerns before a deadly hotel collapse in New Orleans last month, was deported Friday to his native Honduras.
Palma is considered a “crucial witness” by Ava Dejoie, secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, The Washington Post reports. Earlier in the week, Dejoie wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security – which oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement – asking for Palma to be released and his deportation stopped.
“His detention and pending deportation hamper the ongoing investigations,” she wrote in a letter to the director of ICE’s New Orleans field office that the Post obtained.
“If he is deported, the public may never know what key information is being deported with him. The investigations will undoubtedly suffer.”
Palma, 38, had reported safety issues to his supervisors multiple times before the Oct. 12 collapse of what was supposed to be a new Hard Rock Hotel.
Two days after the collapse, Palma was arrested by federal immigration agents while fishing at a national wildlife refuge.
He was then transported to a ICE holding facility in Alexandria, La., where he was kept for weeks before being deported back to Honduras Friday.
Palma never had authorization to legally work in the U.S., but he had been working construction in New Orleans for 17 years, the Post reports. Since 2016, Palma has been trying to fight his deportation.
According to the Post, he was supposed to check back in with ICE in mid-November.
Palma’s lawyers have asserted that he was targeted for deportation because of the concerns he raised, but ICE spokesman Bryan Cox firmly refuted the claim in a statement to the paper.
“Mr. Ramirez-Palma’s latest application for a stay of removal had already been denied by ICE on Oct. 3, more than a week before the incident cited by his supporters,” Cox said in the statement. He added that to claim otherwise would be false” and “wildly irresponsible.”