By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
On March 19, the Monday following the Hazen meeting, Ramirez received a 90-day warning from his supervisor stating that his work wasn't up to snuff. Such notice often is a preliminary to firing. The timing, Ramirez and Appignani believe, was no coincidence. "I told Al Hazen that I was afraid; my wife was afraid," Ramirez says. "They wanted to shut me up."
In the aftermath Appignani has contacted U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and U.S. representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen about the situation. He has requested an investigation and a transfer for Ramirez. So far he has received no response. The situation, says Appignani, has become akin to that of Frank Serpico, a New York City cop who disclosed corruption within his department. Retribution and violence are in the air.
Meanwhile tension is high at Ramirez's home. His wife, Patty, tearfully admits she is afraid to go to the park with her kids. She believes someone from the INS will snatch them. She even refuses to go grocery shopping without her husband. "I can only plead," she says. "If anyone has the authority to transfer my husband out of the South Florida district, please do it. Now."
The INS Responds
In reply to a faxed list of questions seeking response to Ramirez's allegations, the INS media relations office in Miami issued the following statement:
"The law enforcement actions conducted by the Florida District of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) regarding Elian Gonzalez were appropriate, have been appropriate, and will continue to be tested in federal court.
"Neither acting district director John M. Bulger nor his predecessor, Robert A. Wallis, condone[s] the presence, in our facilities, of materials of any kind which are or could be considered offensive to any employee or member of the public, according to John C. Shewairy, chief of staff of the INS in Florida. “Every manager and supervisor of this District is expected to take immediate action to remove inappropriate materials if they become aware of them.'
"Shewairy added that “[t]he core values of the leadership of this office embrace dignity and respect for each and every individual in our community, and that includes our fellow employees. While we will not address the individual feelings of employees in this highly sensitive issue, we do want to assure people that any actions that violate our core values are dealt with timely and decisively.'"