February 5, 2013 started out like any other day for Noe Parra Manrique. It was 7 a.m. and the 30-year-old single father had just dropped off his five-year-old daughter, Anita, with the babysitter. Manrique had given Anita a kiss, a hug, and was back on the road to head into work at a construction site. Soon, a police officer, parked on the side of the road, turned the siren on, and flagged him down.
“Why am I being pulled over?” Manrique recalled through his translator when we spoke on the phone earlier this month.
“You’re missing a screw in your license plate,” the police officer responded.
The police officer asked about the contents of Manrique’s truck. “It’s all construction stuff,” Manrique said.
The officer found out that Manrique had been driving without a license. Manrique was arrested and taken into the Ocean City Police Station in Maryland where they found out that he was also undocumented. Manrique asked to call his babysitter– he didn’t know when, if ever, he would be able to see his daughter, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to pick her up from school that day.
Forty-five minutes later, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials came for Manrique. Officials drove him to the Worchester County Detention Center in Snow Hill, MD. They processed him and placed him in a cold cell.
The next morning, Manrique said that immigration officials interrogated him for eight hours. It was only after immigration officials called the babysitter to verify that Manrique was in fact a father, that they made him eligible for release on an immigration bond. Thirty-five hours after he had last seen his daughter, Manrique went home with a misdemeanor charge and was put into deportation proceedings.
Manrique has since appeared before the immigration judge twice, with the latest court hearing in mid-January 2014. He is facing deportation for not having a license in 2013, even though Maryland state law prohibited him from obtaining one at the time. Between 2009 (when the federal REAL ID Act took effect) to December 31, 2013, undocumented immigrants were unable to receive driver’s licenses in Maryland. Both times, he petitioned for the immigration judge to grant him deportation relief under an ICE prosecutorial discretion memo that directs officers to show leniency towards parents of American-born children. Both times, the judge extended the court date for him to gather more evidence for his petition. Manrique’s final court date will be in March when the immigration judge will make the ultimate decision: deportation relief or permanent banishment.
Manrique is concerned about going back to a country that he hasn’t seen in 14 years, not only because it’s unfamiliar, but because it’s dangerous. “There are cartels threatening people to smuggle narcotics,” Manrique said through his translator. “Because I have a kid to live for, cartels are not [something] that I want to play with.”
He doesn’t know whether he would take Anita back to Mexico. “To be completely honest, it’s very difficult. I want her to stay with me and come to Mexico with me, but she’s a U.S. citizen and deserves to have an American education. I’m thinking of whether she should stay with one of my relatives. It’s a very sensitive matter to me because I haven’t come to a conclusion.”
Manrique appeared to have fared better than others in leaving the immigration detention center. One 2008 report found that 46 percent of immigrants left Worchester through deportation. The Ocean City Police Department participates in a federal program that allows local and state officials to hold immigrants in prison until federal immigration officials can come pick them up for possible deportation.
It is unclear what will happen to Manrique — per the memo, he does not have a prior criminal record and he is the only guardian for his child, so immigration officials can choose to exercise prosecutorial discretion. On the one hand, according to a new Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse report, officials have increasingly used their prosecutorial discretion to spare some individuals from deportation. In some immigration courts, up to 20 percent of cases were closed through prosecutorial discretion. The research theorized, “it could indicate that in some locations, enforcement personnel do a better job screening out cases that would meet the administration’s [prosecutorial discretion] standards before they ever reach court. If that is the case, then a high [prosecutorial discretion] court closure rate may be a sign that inadequate review.”
On the other hand, ICE did not spare Richard Ramos, an undocumented father of three American-born children in Ohio last Friday. Ramos was also put into deportation proceedings after officers found out that he had been driving without a license.
Manrique and Ramos are not the only immigrants who have seen the inside of a detention center for a traffic violation. In the 2011 fiscal year, at least 14,331 people were deported over a traffic violation category that includes “speeding, reckless driving, driving without a taillight, and driving without a license.” And as of 2012 in Manrique’s state, only about 25 percent of immigrants deported in Maryland committed serious offenses.