NEW ORLEANS, LA (WGNO) -- Joel Ramirez Palma told his wife Tania that he thought the construction of the Hard Rock Hotel on Canal Street wasn't being done the way it should be.
Ramirez is an undocumented immigrant who's worked in New Orleans construction for 18 years. But when he started working this past summer on the new Hard Rock Hotel on Canal Street, he told Tania that the measurements he was taking weren't right.
He said that as the building went up it was lopsided -- that it should have been level but was off by as much as 3 inches. He told Tania that he had complained to his supervisors about the problem five times and they ignored him.
Then, on October 12th, Ramirez heard the sound of metal crashing onto metal and he started to run. The upper floors of the hotel were starting to fall on top of each other. Ramirez said the stairs were jammed with other workers trying to get out, so he jumped from the 14th floor to the 13th, and made his way down to the 8th floor where he jumped to the 7th. After that, all he remembered was waking up with a feeling that he couldn't breathe, while someone gave him water.
Still, Ramirez recovered enough that day to answer a few questions from a local Spanish-language newspaper reporter. He said he didn't know what had caused the collapse but he was grateful to God to survive it. He didn't mention the name of the contractor, and he didn't complain about the construction to the reporter. He simply said that he and his co-workers were glad to be alive. At the time, he didn't know that three of them had been killed.
Two days later, Border Patrol agents arrested Ramirez and turned him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His lawyers say he's locked up in an ICE detention center near Alexandria, and that his deportation is imminent.
Acting Press Secretary for the regional office of ICE, Bryan Cox, says Ramirez had exhausted his appeals to stay in the country on October 3-- nine days before the Hard Rock Hotel collapse.
But Ramirez' lawyers claim ICE is under pressure to deport him because he was a whistleblower-- a claim that Cox adamantly denies.
Ramirez' immigration lawyer, Homero Lopez, says that Ramirez doesn't want to be deported- obviously- but that he doesn't want Lopez to file an appeal for him to stay, either.
Lopez says Ramirez is in terrible pain from an eye injury and doesn't want to languish in jail. Tania says a piece of fiberglass fell into her husband's eye while he was working on another job-- for the same contractor he complained about at the Hard Rock Hotel.