The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has deported two brothers to El Salvador on Wednesday, following an intense media push by advocates to keep them in the country.
Lizandro Claros Saravia, 19, was a soccer star at the Bethesda Soccer Club in Maryland. He was accepted to a college in North Carolina on a partial soccer scholarship this fall. His brother Diego, 22, worked at a car repair shop and had planned to move with Lizandro to support his college career.
The Claros brothers’ lives in the United States were derailed in late July when they checked in at their local ICE agency. The brothers told ICE officers that they would be moving to North Carolina in the fall, an advocate told NBC News. But instead of being let go, the boys were detained for deportation proceedings. That same week, ICE agents had began targeting people who entered the United States as unaccompanied children and family units — people similar to the Claros brothers.
On Wednesday, the brothers boarded a plane from Dulles International Airport in Virginia to El Salvador, their home country.
Both brothers had entered the United States in 2009 — when Lizandro was 11 and Diego was 14 — reportedly because the country had gotten too dangerous and they wanted to reunite with family members in the United States. They received a temporary stay of removal in May 2013, but subsequent requests were denied by the ICE agency.
“Since 2016, ICE deportation officers in Baltimore have instructed him to purchase a ticket for his departure,” an ICE spokesperson said referring to both brothers, in an email sent Tuesday prior to their deportation.
“ICE continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” an ICE spokesperson, who spoke on background, said in an email. “However, as ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
ICE added that the brothers had come under fraudulent Guatemala passports and visas under different identities, but their lawyer Nick Katz said they were children when they entered and “were simply following instructions to reunite with their family.” Katz is the senior manager of legal services at the advocacy group Casa De Maryland.
Since 2009, the Claros brothers have tried to normalize their immigration statuses, Katz told ThinkProgress in a phone interview.
“These young people did everything they were supposed to do here — they showed up for immigration court, they showed up to their ICE check-in, they graduated from high school,” Katz said. “They’re just waiting for a route to normalize their status.”
There’s some bitter irony in deporting the Claros brothers on Wednesday. On the same day, President Donald Trump announced his support for a merit-based immigration system that would encourage skilled foreigners who speak English, can financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy. Having been in the country since they were pre-teens, the Claros brothers likely fit within those boundaries. What’s more, Lizandro’s soccer skills may have made him an exceptional talent that the United States would be keen on keeping here.
The most difficult part of the Claros brothers’ deportation may have just begun. Particularly because of their age, the brothers are at high risk of being recruited by the notorious MS-13 gang. They could also be easily identified as “American” because of their unfamiliarity with the landscape. They also do not have close family members to stay with since their immediate family members are here in the United States.
“[El Salvador] is one of the most dangerous countries in the world,” Katz told ThinkProgress in a phone interview Wednesday. “They’re at particular risk of gang violence and they are at risk of being targeted by the gangs because they’re at that age where they can be recruited.”
“Their family was here which is why we tried to keep them here,” Katz added. “They don’t have a support structure and will have to build their lives on their own. That’s a difficult situation to put a 19 and 22 year old in.”