Portrait of an Immigrant Detainee as a Young Man

Meet New York bike-scene fixture Pablo Airaldi. He made friends with everyone—except ICE officials.

Portrait of an Immigrant Detainee as a Young Man
Sharon Goldberg
"If you see me in the street, please carry me home!" By home, Pablo Airaldi means Bed-Stuy.

It is a rare individual who, upon being jailed for a 10-year-old indiscretion that he had already paid for, has friends help contribute to his legal fees by playfully stripping. Pablo Airaldi is that kind of person.

So here we are on a mid-November Friday at the Production Lounge, a weirdly contrived Greenpoint venue chosen for its flexibility to host a community fundraiser on short notice rather than its spectacularly gaudy low-rent Planet Hollywood posture. Onstage, Babes on Bikes are disrobing coquettishly, one of five acts donating their talents for this $10-a-head event to benefit Pablo, who is indefinitely detained in New Jersey’s Hudson County jail. Earlier this evening, a jumble of bands and a fire dancer regaled the crowd of 200 or so. But the local burlesque collective could arguably be called the main attraction, as everyone left is glued to the spectacle. Aided by an accordion player and an MC aping Daniel Day Lewis as Bill the Butcher (perhaps unintentionally), the troupe’s routines are bike-fetish camp. For example, one performer, an inked vixen with Bettie Page bangs who goes by Heather Loop, ends a number by peeling down to pinstriped lingerie and twirling a fringed bike-wheel parasol. Another sketch concludes with a barefoot woman in white underwear straddling, rather purposefully, a cycle saddle.

Pablo Airaldi, you see, is something of a fixture in New York’s bike community. The 28-year-old has toiled intermittently as a messenger for more than five years, organized the now-defunct Kid Robot–sponsored team Six Racing, run with the Cutthroats Bike Club, spoken to the press about urban-cycling obstacle-course races called Alleycats, and even once modeled for a New York Times’ Styles section after gear-testing “cycling-specific knickers.” Until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) snatched him on October 13, the Bed-Stuy resident was managing Greenpoint Bikes, a fledgling shop docked nearby on Manhattan Avenue. And so most of the people here tonight, and many of those who have gotten to know Pablo over the few years, know him from his time whipping around streets.

What those same people didn’t know until recently—even a couple Pablo considered his very best friends—was that he could disappear at any moment. Born in Uruguay and brought to America by his mother as a child, he was a legal permanent resident, but he got caught transporting stolen car parts as a teenager, and at the behest of a harried public defender in Indiana, pled guilty to a felony in order to avoid jail time. The result: a suspended sentence of 545 days. Such a conviction is a deportable offense according to current immigration law, and so even though Pablo doesn’t speak Spanish anymore, doesn’t have family in his native land, and is by all accounts a legitimate product of the American system, he could be shipped back to South America at any point.

But because he’s such a terrifically authentic character who makes friends easily, Pablo has an astonishing network of pals working on his behalf around the country—organizing fundraisers, nagging politicians, retaining legal counsel, feverishly digging around the Internet for guidance, and even stripping. In the two and a half months since ICE stole him, there have been bike races for Pablo in Minneapolis and Switzerland, a benefit in his high school hometown of Indianapolis, and a poetry/music/magician showcase in Kentucky. And the grand total just from tonight’s event, organized by two New York friends, Kathleen Hennerty and Will Bowers, will come to $1,333.

Asked by the Voice earlier in the day—via a jail-commissary phone card that costs 25 cents a minute (another excessive financial drain from his indeterminate detention)—what message he’d want relayed to his friends at the benefit, Pablo bids, “Have fun. Don’t stress too hard. We can only do just so much, and I’m just thankful about anything that’s done right now.” But what if he could be there tonight, drinking whiskey and talking shit, what would he say? “Make sure I don’t wake up in the gutter?” He laughs. “Or how about, ‘If you see me in the street, please carry me home!’ ”

By home, he means Bed-Stuy, not Uruguay.

Here’s what Pablo Daniel Airaldi is like on paper. Birth date: October 17, 1982. Birthplace: Montevideo, Uruguay. Mother’s maiden name: Perez. Hair: Brown. Eyes: Chestnut (“castaño” on his passport). Marital status: Single. Education level: Some school. Employment history: Factory worker, bike messenger, bike-shop manager. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Status: In custody. Case number: 240750.

Here is what Pablo is like on social media. On Facebook, he has 693 friends, identifies his religious views as “faith saves man, religions kill him,” and publicly testifies to liking the stuff-white-people-like NPR staple This American Life, shit-eating punk icon GG Allin, and the FX comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He has also posted a scan of his Uruguayan passport with the request, “Steal my identity . . . please.” (The certificate is dated March 17, 2006, and expires, ominously, on March 17, 2011.) Pablo’s not on Twitter. But on his lingering MySpace profile, the Libra quotes a James Joyce passage from Ulysses at length, teases about his obsession with the Kevin Bacon cycling film Quicksilver (“i like to watch quicksilver every night before i go to sleep, and once again when i wake up, and whenever i have a long break for lunch and also while i sleep”), and lists his occupation as “bike.”

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