Charlotte business owner arrested by ICE, faces deportation

The owner of a Charlotte concrete company has been arrested by federal immigration authorities and could be deported for being in the country illegally.

Uriel Ventura, a 37-year-old native and citizen of Mexico, lost an eight-year court battle to stay in the country. He was picked up 10 days later by federal agents while reportedly driving in his pickup. He is now at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in southern Georgia awaiting deportation.

Ventura owns Ventura’s Concrete LLC, a 2-year-old small business created to take advantage of Charlotte’s construction boom. The fate of the company remains in jeopardy.

His arrest by federal agents could be the most high-profile instance yet of ICE activities in the city and the first known example of a business owner being taken into custody.

It comes at a time when Charlotte’s Hispanic community is on alert against a perceived jump in ICE arrests, prompted by the policies of President Donald Trump.

ICE has acknowledged arresting at least 30 undocumented immigrants in Charlotte this year, including an 18-year-old senior at Northwest School of the Arts.

“It’s terrible,” Ventura’s lawyer, Rob Heroy, said Thursday, a day after Ventura’s arrest. “We get multiple phone calls a day from people terrified that they’re going to be arrested at an immigrant checkpoint around town. It’s a tough time to be a part of that community. It’s almost heartbreaking.”

Ventura has been fighting through the courts for eight years to stay in the country to raise his two daughters, who are now of driving age, Heroy said.

He won an initial ruling to remain in the country after his legal team argued he is a good father, hard worker and a contributing member of the community, Heroy said. The ruling came despite Ventura being found guilty in 2009 of assault on a female, a charge involving his now-ex-wife.

An immigration judge and an immigration appeals board later ruled against him, saying he failed to prove “an extremely unusual hardship” to remain in the country. That’s the standard people must prove to avoid deportation, Heroy said.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld Ventura’s deportation order on Feb. 27. It was the second time Ventura’s case appeared before the court. The court’s ruling did not mention his 2009 conviction.

Ventura was booked Wednesday afternoon at the York County, S.C., Detention Center, where ICE takes undocumented immigrants who have been detained. He was in the Stewart Detention Center in south Georgia on Thursday.

Immigration officials can still decide to keep Ventura in the country, “but the new administration has severely limited” the prospects of that happening, Heroy said.

ICE officials have denied stepping up activity in Charlotte, but have said they are going after undocumented immigrants who have been involved in criminal activity. That is the case with Ventura and Gustavo “Gus” Zamudio, the Charlotte high school student facing deportation after being charged last month with embezzling almost $3,000 from a Harris Teeter store.

ICE officials told the Observer that other recent arrests have included undocumented immigrants with multiple arrests for driving while intoxicated and reentering the country after being previously deported.

Charlotte is believed to have 54,000 people living illegally in the community, most of them Hispanic.

Ventura’s detention comes as the city’s immigrant community has increased protests of ICE arrests, including a group that attended a recent city council meeting and shouted down city leaders.

In February, 8,000 immigrants and their supporters marched through uptown as part of the national protest “Day Without Immigrants.” In the Charlotte region, an estimated 250 Latino businesses remained closed for the day in solidarity. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools saw absences rise by 16,000 over the previous day.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak