Six months after he was deported back to Mexico from the United States, Constantino Morales was shot and killed Sunday night. Morales, an undocumented immigrant who fought for immigration reform in Iowa, was twice denied asylum in the United States before he was found dead in the Mexican state of Guerrero.
“If I am sent back, I will face more violence and I could lose my life,” Morales said at a meeting with Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) in August 2013, according to an Iowa-based, immigration advocacy group Citizens for Community Improvement’s (CCI) Facebook page. “We are in severe need of fair immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship. We don’t want any excuses; we know you can make this happen.”
CCI explained in a public Facebook message that Morales was “a former police officer in Mexico who publicly stood up against drug trafficking. After many attempts on his life, he came to the US in search of asylum and an opportunity to continue to work to support his family. He was a kind man. He never let his legal status limit his advocacy for immigrant rights.”
Morales fled to Des Moines, Iowa in 2010. Natalie Snyders, a CCI organizer, told ThinkProgress that since his arrival in the United States, Morales has worked at a local restaurant. He came to her organization’s attention because he was a victim of wage theft and “became quite involved in the organization as a leader speaking out about immigration reform and other issues related to the Latino community. … He was never afraid to speak out for the community, for the immigration system. A lot of people are afraid to speak out when they’re undocumented, but he wasn’t.”
Maria [last name withheld], a close family friend, mournfully told ThinkProgress that Morales came to the attention of immigration officials after the police pulled him over for a traffic violation and found out that he didn’t have a driver’s license. According to his asylum application, Morales was pulled over and let go twice, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) later showed up at his workplace “saying I had to go with them.”
“The police stopped [him] one time and the police [said]…you don’t have any driver’s license,” Maria said. “He had to go to court, when he go [sic] to the court, they found out he don’t [sic] have documentation. That’s why ICE be [sic] involved in the case.”
Although Morales didn’t have a license, Iowa state law prohibits certain undocumented immigrants from receiving driver’s licenses.
Snyders said that Morales applied for asylum twice, with an immigration judge denying his application both times. Morales was ordered to leave by September 2, 2014. In a Facebook post, CCI stated that over 200 calls and hundreds of postcards and letters were sent to ICE to petition against Morales’ deportation. “I had never felt this kind of support and care from my community. I am very grateful to all of you, and very proud to be a member of CCI,” Morales said in July 2014.
“I’m really sad because he’s… kind of my family,” Maria said, reflecting on Morales’ death. She said that Morales worked in construction after he went back to Mexico to support his family. “He’s really poor. He no [sic] have any kind of support, so they live day to day. … He’s really afraid to stay in the country because in [Mexico], the police or the government doesn’t have security for the people.”
Morales left behind his six kids, a wife, four siblings, and mother.
CREDIT: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
Deported immigrants face a variety of challenges, including death. One Mexican domestic violence victim was found dead in a burnt-out car five days after she was deported in 2013. And in Latin American countries that have high rates of violence, at least five Central American kids turned up at a morgue in San Pedro Sula, Honduras last year. A Human Rights Watch report on deported Central Americans found that those deported “had fear so acute that they were living in hiding, afraid to go out in public.”
Asylum seekers from Latin America have a difficult time being approved for asylum in the United States based on a credible fear that they are being persecuted or feel threatened in their home countries. Between 2011 and 2012, only 0.1 percent of Mexican asylum-seekers were referred to a credible or reasonable fear interview by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, a preliminary step to determine whether an individual qualifies for asylum. Still, a State Department travel warning advisory stated that the “state of Guerrero was the most violent state in Mexico in 2013, with 2,087 homicides and 207 reported cases of kidnapping.” Last month, a mayoral candidate was decapitated in Guerrero with a note found next to her body threatening any politicians who don’t “fall in line,” Reuters reported at the time.