According to his lawyers, Joel Ramirez Palma was on the thirteenth floor of the Hard Rock Hotel building when it began to fall. He survived by jumping down into the floors below him as the concrete and steel collapsed overhead. Ramirez Palma was one of many injured. Three of his coworkers died.
After the collapse, Ramirez Palma spoke to the media about unsafe conditions he had seen on the site. Then, two days later, he was fishing in Bayou Sauvage, when he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. He's being held in a facility in Alexandria, La., and faces deportation.
Ramirez Palma's attorney, Mary Yanik, said the worker has important information for the federal investigation into what took place at the Hard Rock Hotel site. She's asking the federal government's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to stop his deportation.
"I hope that they intervene in this case given the stakes, not only for Joel but also for all workers and for the integrity of this investigation," Yanik said, noting OSHA has intervened in at least one comparable case.
Yanik said she believes Ramirez Palma's arrest may have been retaliation for speaking out about unsafe conditions. She said Ramirez Palma warned his supervisor at the construction company, King Company, about problems with the structure on more than five occasions.
"He could see that this was not right," Yanik said. "His supervisor's response to him raising those safety issues was 'If you don't want to do the work, we'll find someone else to do it.'"
King Company's owner, Cyd Geary, did not respond to a request for comment.
Yanik said the circumstances of Ramirez Palma's arrest are "highly suspicious."
Yanik said Ramirez Palma drove to Bayou Sauvage to fish, and was followed by a gray truck.
Soon after he began fishing, according to Yanik, a Fish and Wildlife official appeared and asked for his fishing license, which he displayed. Then he was asked for his driver's license, which he did not have, and was arrested. Confusingly, Yanik said the charge was for fishing without a license, even though she said his fishing license was valid.
Then, Yanik said "no less than two minutes later, according to [Ramirez Palma]," U.S. Border Patrol arrived on the scene.
"This is very strange," Yanik said. "It seems as though there was an intentional targeting of him. And then one has to ask why?"
Yanik said OSHA is investigating Ramirez Palma's detention for possible retaliation. OSHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for ICE, Bryan Cox, said Ramirez Palma's deportation has nothing to do with the Hard Rock Hotel collapse. He said Ramirez Palma was ordered deported on Oct. 3 -- nine days before the incident.
"Any claims that this has anything to do with his involvment with the Hard Rock situation is not correct. Just look at the dates," Cox said.
Cox said Ramirez Palma had originally been ordered deported in February 2016 by a federal immigration judge, but had been granted a temporary stay of removal several times since. His last request for a stay of removal was denied, he said.
"He has had his due process, he has had his day in court. He is in the country unlawfully," Cox said.
"The overarching suggestion that this agency targets individuals for arrest based on public comments is simply not correct," he said.
Cox said Ramirez Palma was not scheduled for deportation Monday, as some media outlets previously reported. But he said ICE policy does not allow him to reveal when the deportation is scheduled to take place.