NEW ORLEANS – ICE officials report that a worker who survived the Hard Rock Hotel collapse and spoke out about the project to investigators has been deported.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan Cox said Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma, 38, was flown to Honduras from Alexandria International Airport, which is near several ICE detention facilities in central Louisiana.
Border Patrol officers arrested Ramirez Palma two days after he fell several stories as the upper floors of the hotel project caved in on Oct. 12. Workplace safety advocates had hoped he could remain in the United States to facilitate the federal investigation of the collapse, which killed three workers and left dozens more injured.
“We’re deeply concerned about the gaping hole this leaves in the investigation into the Hard Rock Hotel collapse,” said Mary Yanik of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. She said she believes his arrest was in retaliation for reporting to a supervisor about construction shortcuts before the collapse, and for comments he made to reporters afterward.
Cox countered that any such claims “are patently false and irresponsible.”
Ramirez Palma had been fighting a deportation order since 2016, and had lost an appeal.
“Mr. Ramirez Palma’s latest application for a stay of removal had already been denied by ICE on Oct. 3, more than a week prior to the incident cited by his supporters,” Cox said.
Ramirez Palma’s job was putting in window framing at the hotel site. He had told a supervisor more than five times before the collapse that his laser leveling tool showed the building was tilting 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 centimeters), Yanik said. The veteran construction worker’s wife, Tania Bueso, has said he complained that the concrete floors were sagging, forcing him to double and triple-check measurements in the imbalanced building.
Yanik said his deportation would complicate the federal investigation by keeping him out of further proceedings and silencing other workers and witnesses who are in the country without legal permission.
A lawsuit filed after the collapse by Ramirez Palma and four other injured workers says the project’s developers and construction firms used inadequate materials and supports.
His attorneys did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on his deportation, but Yanik said advocates had spoken with his wife.
“She was understandably distraught,” she said.