A traffic stop just led to this DREAMer’s deportation

"He's been calling me crying, 'I don't know anyone here and I don't like it here. What can I do?'"

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting Director Thomas Homan speaks during a news conference in Washington, Thursday, May 11, 2017, to announce the results of a national operation targeting gang members and associates. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting Director Thomas Homan speaks during a news conference in Washington, Thursday, May 11, 2017, to announce the results of a national operation targeting gang members and associates. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A high school graduate who was twice granted temporary deportation relief under a Obama-era program was deported to El Salvador on Wednesday, indicating that the Trump administration is not stopping its relentless crackdown of undocumented immigrants who have been in the country since they were children.

Mario, a 23-year-old construction worker and Virginia resident, had been in the country since 2003 when he crossed the border alone to reunite with his family in the United States. At the time, the immigration judge issued a voluntary departure to the nine-year-old, but because he did not leave in a timely fashion, he was given a final order of removal. His mother has requested for ThinkProgress to withhold his full name.

In 2012, Mario successfully became a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, which grants work authorization and deportation relief in two-year increments. He again received DACA in 2014. Because of pending traffic-related offenses in Maryland in 2016, he held off on re-applying for DACA until his case was resolved. His charges were reduced and dismissed except for one reckless driving charge which would still have made him DACA-eligible, Anam Rahman, a lawyer at Calderón Seguin PLC who’s representing him, told ThinkProgress in a phone interview.

This April, Mario was again arrested on traffic-related charges in Fairfax County, Virginia. Although Fairfax authorities do not participate in the 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which authorizes local law enforcement to perform federal immigration enforcement duties, Rahman believes that it’s increasingly become the case that there’s cooperation between local and federal authorities. In this case, Fairfax officers turned him over to ICE agents, who detained him for deportation proceedings.

“When he was picked up, he didn’t have DACA and didn’t have a pending DACA application either,” Rahman said. Soon after he was in ICE custody, Rahman rushed to keep him in the country, including filing an emergency stay of removal and motion to reopen his original case with an immigration court based on the fact that at the age of nine, he was too young to understand the terms of “voluntary departure.” Rahman also reapplied for Mario’s DACA renewal through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency, which is responsible for granting DACA and other immigration benefits like citizenship.

“I said, ‘I have serious concerns that you will remove someone with a pending DACA application.'”

Something of a Catch-22 transpired while Mario was in custody. USCIS denied his DACA application because he was detained in ICE custody. And ICE doesn’t release people from detention who are eligible for DACA-eligible.

“I got an email from the ICE officer Wednesday saying, ‘USCIS has denied the DACA application, see attached.’ The decision from USCIS was dated August 8 and he was deported the next day,” Rahman said. “I was creating so many red flags for them. I said, ‘I have serious concerns that you will remove someone with a pending DACA application.'”

Now that Mario is in El Salvador, his family has been hit hard by waves of emotion. As the oldest of five children, he has helped to support his mother and her family. His mother openly cried during a conversation in which she grew increasingly concerned about his safety. Given El Salvador’s morbid moniker of being the “Murder Capital of the World,” Mario–who’s by all accounts an American in accent and demeanor– could be targeted by gangs. Life for other deportees has been exceptionally difficult and dangerous. According to the Human Rights Watch, deportees go into hiding once they’re back in Central American countries, to stay out of harm’s way.

“Here in the house, we are all suffering,” his mother, who’s lawfully in the United States and didn’t want to use her name, told ThinkProgress in a phone interview on Thursday. “He called me from the detention center where they take you when you get deported to El Salvador. He said he felt very bad because he had no idea where to go. I told him, ‘You tell me where you are and I’ll find someone to come find you.'”

“He’s been calling me crying, ‘I don’t know anyone here and I don’t like it here.'”

“He’s been calling me crying, ‘I don’t know anyone here and I don’t like it here. What can I do?’ And I tell him, ‘I don’t know what to do,'” Mario’s mother said, choking back tears. “He never had problems in school. He always went to class. He graduated from high school. His only issue was his error in committed with his driving otherwise he didn’t have any problems.”

“I keep asking myself, ‘why did this happen?'” she added. “When he was working, he would help us run the household financially. I miss him a lot and I’m very sad that he’s not here. Unfortunately, financially it would be very difficult to buy the tickets to see him and[we can’t go] because of the violence.”

For Rahman, Mario’s deportation appears to show that the Trump administration is likely finding ways to target so-called DREAMers by waiting out any connection they may have to DACA. Rahmain pointed to how ICE deported Mario exactly one day after USCIS denied Mario’s DACA pending application, and she said she fears that more immigrants could be caught up in Mario’s situation.

“[The administration] hasn’t revoked DACA. Yet they’re finding a sneaky way to still revoke it based on how they’re enforcing their detention and their removal [process],” Rahman said. “That’s what really bothers me– don’t, for a headline, say that you’re keeping DACA when you’re not keeping DACA and you’re not giving it any weight.”

President Donald Trump has so far left uncertain the future of the DACA initiative. The Texas Attorney General has led a crusade against the Obama-era executive action, threatening to sue the Trump administration if DACA doesn’t end by September 5. Trump, who once said he would treat so-called DREAMers “with heart,” has remained relatively tight-lipped since his inauguration about it, however.

In March, the ICE agency tweeted out, “DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority.” Yet as Acting ICE director Thomas Homan clarified in June, all undocumented immigrants “are on the table, that’s what the executive orders say.”

The detention of other DACA-eligible immigrants and DREAMers has taken place since Trump took office. Daniel Ramirez Medina, another two-time DACA recipient, was detained earlier this year as a collateral arrest when ICE agents came for his undocumented father. He has since sued the government for claiming to use “agency discretion” as justification to detain him. Daniela Vargas, whose DACA status had expired like Mario’s, was detained after speaking at a news conference about the arrests of her relatives by ICE agents. She was later freed. Juan Montes was the first immigrant protected under the DACA program to be deported by the Trump administration in April. He has since sued the federal government for forcing him across the border. The Department of Homeland Security has pushed back saying Montes crossed the border into Mexico voluntarily, according to USA Today.

“It’s devastating that you can do everything under the law, but still come out short,” Rahman said.

The post has been corrected to reflect that Fairfax County does not participate in the federal 287(g) program.