A Honduran construction worker who blew the whistle on workplace safety issues at the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans days before the structure collapsed is being deported by the U.S. government.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) arrested Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma while he was fishing with his wife and three children in a national wildlife refuge. Mr. Ramirez Palma, a metal worker, was one of the dozens of workers injured when the half-built Hard Rock Hotel collapsed Oct. 12. Three other workers were killed in the construction disaster, which prompted the closure of roads and buildings surrounding the construction site.
Before the building collapsed, Mr. Ramirez Palma had warned his supervisors about some dangerous lapses in the safety of the construction. According to New Orleans’ WGNO-TV, Mr. Ramirez Palma’s wife said her husband complained to his bosses about the serious safety problems five times. Whether they took his warnings seriously is unclear.
Mr. Ramirez Palma was seriously injured in the Oct. 12 collapse and was hospitalized with head trauma, internal inflammation, and an acute eye injury that requires surgery. The Spanish-language media outlet Jambalaya News interviewed him two days after the collapse and he appeared on video talking about what he remembers of the incident. When asked what he thought caused the Hard Rock to crumble, he said he didn’t know.
Questions about the circumstances and timing of his arrest and impending deportation are now being raised. Mr. Ramirez Palma’s wife and supporters say ICE is deporting him because he was a whistleblower with potentially critical information about the Hard Rock hotel collapse. They say that ICE is under pressure to send him out of the country, according to WGNO.
According to his lawyer, Mr. Ramirez had been in regular contact with ICE trying to gain permission to stay in New Orleans with his family. He has lived with his wife and children in New Orleans for 18 years and was in the process of working with ICE to stay in the country legally. He has no criminal record.
Mr. Ramirez Palma is also cooperating with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) whistleblower division, which is one of the agencies investigating the Hard Rock Hotel collapse. Advocates say Mr. Ramirez Palma holds valuable information and his deportation could obstruct the investigations.
“In the aftermath of a disaster of this scale, the public needs all available information to understand what happened at the worksite, including information from Mr Ramirez Palma and workers like him who witnessed safety violations before the collapse,” wrote Ava Dejoie, secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC), in a Nov. 27 letter to William Joyce, the New Orleans field office director of ICE. “If he is deported, the public may never know what key information is being deported with him. The investigations will undoubtedly suffer.”
Ms. Dejoie has been advocating for Mr. Ramirez Palma’s release from the ICE detention center where he has been held for weeks.
Another Hispanic construction worker took a whistleblower video of the Hard Rock hotel’s interior construction days before the collapse, pointing out what looks like serious flaws in the design and construction.
Additional source: CNN