Supporters say Juan Chub-Funes, 20, was in the wrong place at the wrong time on May 31. Police say he was participating in a riot.
That evening, unrest swept Philadelphia in response to the police killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. After clearing large crowds from the area around the 69th Street Transportation Center, police responded to reports of looting at Ashley Stewart, a women’s clothing store nearby.
Chub-Funes and four other people were spotted by police leaving the store “with several pieces of merchandise,” according to the affidavit of probable cause.
He was arrested and charged with burglary, criminal trespassing, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, riot, failure to disperse upon official order, and disorderly conduct. None of the five were arrested with stolen goods on them, said Officer James Friel during Chub-Funes’ preliminary hearing.
“The potential penalties … just aren’t consistent with the allegations,” said public defender Max Orenstein. Two of the charges are felonies, carrying maximum sentences of 10 years in prison.
After Chub-Funes spent several months at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, family members and local advocacy groups — such as JUNTOS, MILPA, The Black and Brown Coalition of PHL, Delco DSA and the Free Migration Project — started a petition urging District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer and the local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office to drop the criminal charges and stop trying to detain Chub-Funes based on his immigration status. Originally from Guatemala, he is in the country unlawfully after coming to this country at 17.
The coalition of social justice organizations claims he had no idea what was going on, and that the charges are “unjustified.”
“Juan saw a group of people coalescing and decided to go check it out,” wrote supporters in a petition that now has more than 5,000 signatures. In prison, “[his] mental health is deteriorating,” they continued. The organizations also started a campaign on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #JuanCantWait.
A representative from the Delaware County District Attorney’s office said the case is charged “appropriately by the Upper Darby police department.”
“The individuals who are advocating for the defendant’s immediate release appear to have a political agenda. The District Attorney cannot and will not dismiss charges simply because of a social media campaign,” said Margie McAboy, a spokesperson for the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office.
Due to Chub-Funes’ immigration status, his arrest could have far-reaching consequences on his life, beyond a prison sentence. In December 2017, he and his father attempted to cross into the U.S. illegally, but were captured by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Agents released them into the country and with a date in immigration court, which Chub-Funes missed. That automatically results in a deportation order.
Now that he has an immigration lawyer, Chub-Funes was able to get that order dismissed and his immigration case reopened, but a hearing is not scheduled until June 2021.
Chub-Funes grew up in an Indigenous Mayan community in Guatemala, speaking Q’eqchi as a first language and working in agriculture. In Delaware County, he worked in restaurants to help support his dad and little brother before COVID-19 cost him those jobs, said immigration attorney Kim Tomczak.
Tomczak said she plans to request asylum for her client, based on his belonging to a persecuted group, following the well-documented discrimination against Mayan populations in Guatemala.
If he could put down 10% on his $50,000 bail, due to an ICE detainer, Chub-Funes would simply be transferred to a different detention facility, most likely in York or Pike Counties, further away from his family. ICE did not return a request for comment in time of writing.