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ICE deported worker who survived New Orleans hotel collapse

Matthew McNulty

A construction worker injured during the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel site in New Orleans in October was deported to his native Honduras on Friday by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, prompting outrage from workplace safety advocates, according to NOLA.com.

Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma, a 38-year-old Honduran national who'd worked in construction in the New Orleans area for the past 18 years, was arrested by border patrol agents two days after he fell several stories during the building's collapse on Oct. 12, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told NOLA.com.

Three construction workers died in the incident and more than a dozen were injured.

But the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice has suggested that Ramirez's deportation came in retaliation for complaining about structural issues and unsafe work conditions that led to the fatal construction accident.

"We're deeply concerned about the gaping hole this leaves in the investigation into the Hard Rock Hotel collapse," said Mary Yanik of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice. She said she believes his arrest was in retaliation for reporting to a supervisor about construction shortcuts before the collapse, and for comments he made to reporters afterward.

Cox countered that any such claims "are patently false" and "wildly irresponsible."

HARD ROCK HOTEL COLLAPSE: BY THE NUMBERS

Ramirez had been fighting a deportation order since 2016, but lost following a lengthy appeal process. ICE officials say the construction accident and Ramirez’s cooperation in assisting officials in determining the cause of it was unrelated to his deportation.

Cox told NOLA.com that ICE denied Ramirez's application for a stay on Oct. 3, nine days before the Hard Rock Hotel collapse. Ramirez lacked legal authorization to work in the U.S., and in 2016, had been ordered deported by a federal immigration judge.

Ramirez had repeatedly raised concerns to his supervisors about issues with the Hard Rock project, according to Yanik.

She said that Ramirez noticed "alarming" discrepancies in measurements on different sides of the building and voiced concerns about the structure not being level, according to NOLA.com, but was repeatedly told to keep working and threatened with being replaced.

One day before the collapse, Ramirez noticed the building visibly moving several inches while taking measurements on the 14th floor.

RECOVERY BEGINS AT FALLEN HARD ROCK HOTEL SITE

As a result of the collapse, Ramirez suffered head trauma and internal inflammation, as well as a serious injury to one of his eyes, according to the Daily Mail.

Along with four other construction workers who were injured in the collapse, Ramirez filed a lawsuit shortly after the incident occurred, accusing the developers of using inefficient building material, according to CBS News.

Ramirez had also been interviewed by Jambalaya News, a Spanish-language news outlet, where he said he was on the 13th floor at the time that the structure collapsed, telling the outlet he was "happy and grateful to God" to be alive.

The construction collapse cost the city of New Orleans $6 million in the first two weeks following the accident, or about $400,000 a day, according to NOLA.com.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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