A Key Witness in the Hard Rock Hotel Collapse Has Been Deported by ICE
The decision came despite objections from government officials tasked with figuring out how the accident killed three construction workers
- Dec 3, 2019
Courtesy: Tim Nelson | News Source: architecturaldigest.com
In October, the dramatic collapse of an under-construction Hard Rock Hotel in downtown New Orleans killed three workers and injured dozens more. Now, the deportation of a construction worker who the Louisiana Workforce Commission described as a “crucial witness” has investigators worried about their ability to piece together what happened.
Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma, who has 17 years of experience working on construction sites in and around New Orleans, managed to escape serious harm when the upper floors of the Hard Rock construction site came crashing down. According to The Washington Post and other news outlets, Palma’s lawyers, who are handling his complaint with the Department of Labor, claim he discussed potential safety concerns about the site with coworkers just one day before the fatal accident. They also attest that this wasn’t the first time Palma voiced his safety concerns on the job site.
That’s why advocates for Palma, a Honduran national who has been battling a removal order that dates back to 2016, suspect that ulterior motives inspired his detainment. Some believe Palma’s on-camera appearance for a Spanish language news outlet and participation in a lawsuit against the job site’s contractors and developers may have helped make him a target, leading to his arrest just two days after the building's collapse.
ICE, which held Palma for weeks in a facility in Alexandria, Louisiana, claims that any connection between Palma’s job site complaints before the accident and his eventual deportation via a flight to Honduras this past Friday are “false” and “wildly irresponsible.” ICE spokesperson Bryan D. Cox told The Washington Post that “Mr. Ramirez Palma’s latest application for a stay of removal had already been denied by ICE on October 3, more than a week before the incident cited by his supporters.”
Still, ICE’s deportation decision has been criticized by state officials. Ava Dejoie, the Louisiana Workforce Commission's secretary, regarded Palma as central to the investigation into the Hard Rock Hotel site accident and sought to halt the deportation. In a letter to ICE’s New Orleans field office, she wrote, “If [Palma] is deported, the public may never know what key information is being deported with him,” and added that “the investigations will undoubtedly suffer.”
The decision to deport Palma also represents a break from an Obama-era agreement between the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security to prevent ICE from arresting individuals who are material to Labor Department investigations. The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, an organization aiding Palma in his case with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, argues that the deportation sends a chilling signal to workers—and one with potentially serious consequences for the public.
“The next time a building collapses, we will wonder if it could have been prevented if our federal agencies had prioritized answers and accountability for the survivors of the Hard Rock,” Julien Burns, spokesman for the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, told The Washington Post. “We will wonder if the same bad actors are to blame, and we will wonder if potential whistleblowers kept silent because they saw what happened to Joel.
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