NEHALEM — In September, Gilberto Bermudez-Arciga said he received a call about an estimate on a landscaping job. He wasn’t accepting new clients, but he agreed to meet the caller.
While on his way , he saw flashing lights go off behind him. He realized he had been tricked.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had been following him as he was looking for the address the caller — who he now believes was an ICE agent — had given him over the phone. He said he felt like everything around him was collapsing.
Bermudez-Arciga, 51, was taken to the private Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. On Nov. 12, he was deported to Mexico, leaving behind his home of nearly 30 years.
His business partner, Tricia Brown, sent letters to their customers on the North Coast notifying them that Gil & Trish Landscape in Nehalem would close.
Bermudez-Arciga said the call from the ICE agent came days after his misdemeanor trial ended in Clatsop County Circuit Court. Jurors found him guilty of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving and recklessly endangering another person.
According to ICE, Bermudez-Arciga has previous drunken-driving convictions.
ICE also said he was caught entering the United States four times between 2006 and 2009. “Each time he was allowed to voluntarily return to Mexico rather than be detained for immigration removal proceedings,” Tanya Roman, an ICE spokeswoman, said in an email.
“We make bad choices and I’m very sorry I have (made) my bad choices,” Bermudez-Arciga said in a phone interview from Mexico.
He said he knew there was a chance ICE would come for him after his latest conviction. But he said claims by some ICE leaders that the priority targets for deportation are the “worst of the worst” gave him some peace of mind.
While at the detention center in Tacoma, he said people would talk about how they got picked up. He said there were many construction workers, roofers, landscapers and cannery workers who thought they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Bermudez-Arciga said he moved to the United States in his early 20s to create a better life for himself but never became a U.S. citizen.
He said he has a daughter in the United States who finished school and can have a good life.
One of his greatest passions was working as a volunteer Cannon Beach firefighter for over a decade.
Garry Smith, the president of the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District’s board, was Bermudez-Arciga’s training officer.
“He was a good firefighter,” Smith said. “He has a good work ethic. He participated in all the trainings. He came to all the drills. He came to as many calls as he could get away from his job.”
“I think it’s sad that they would take him out of his community and do that,” Smith said. “He’s a hard-working individual that to my knowledge has never caused any problem for anybody.”
Bermudez-Arciga was also involved in St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Nehalem. He said the church and his Alcoholics Anonymous group in Manzanita supported him after he was detained.
Lianne Thompson, a Clatsop County commissioner, is on the bishop’s advisory committee at St. Catherine’s.
“He just does good and works everywhere. He’s just a swell guy,” said Thompson, who represents South County. “He’s so loved.”
“It’s a deplorable effect of the current laws, it just is. And he did wrong,” she said, referring to Bermudez-Arciga’s deportation and legal history.
Bermudez-Arciga said he tried to do his best at work and within the community. He hopes people will judge each other for who they are as individuals, not their immigration status.
He said he wishes he could have said “goodbye” and written thank-you letters to his customers and friends.