Witness in La. hotel site collapse is deported
A metal worker considered a “crucial witness” in the October collapse at the Hard Rock Hotel construction site in New Orleans was deported Friday to his native Honduras.
Lawyers for Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma said the 38-yearold may have been targeted for deportation because he voiced concerns about the project — an assertion immigration officials have disputed.
Palma escaped the 18-story structure by jumping between floors as the steel and concrete from the upper floors came crashing down around him. The Oct. 12 catastrophe left three workers dead and dozens of others injured.
Two days later, as he was recovering, federal immigration agents arrested Palma while he was fishing at a national wildlife refuge.
Palma was not authorized to work in the United States and had been fighting a removal order since 2016. He was to check in with Immigration and Customs
Enforcement in mid-November.
Palma, who worked construction in New Orleans for 17 years, had repeatedly reported safety issues at the Hard Rock site to supervisors and was always told to go back to work, according to his attorneys, who helped him file a complaint with the Labor Department.
The day before the collapse, his attorneys said, he told some coworkers that he noticed the floor underneath him was moving, as if in an earthquake. When they discussed what happened later, they were within earshot of several supervisors, his attorneys said.
Shortly after the incident, Palma spoke in a video interview with a Spanish-language news outlet about the collapse and his escape, and joined a lawsuit with other injured workers against the contractors and developers.
After spending weeks at an ICE staging facility in Alexandria, La., Palma was put on a Friday morning deportation flight to Honduras, ICE spokesman Bryan D. Cox confirmed to The Washington Post on Saturday. Cox called claims that Palma was targeted for speaking out about the conditions at the construction site “false” and “wildly irresponsible.”
“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 a statement.
Days before Palma’s deportation, the secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission asked the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, to release Palma and stop his deportation proceedings.
In a letter to William P. Joyce, director of ICE’s New Orleans field office, Secretary Ava Dejoie said Palma was a “crucial witness” in the ongoing investigation.
“His detention and pending deportation hamper the ongoing investigations,” Dejoie wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Post.