That's what almost happened to Josue Romero, a 19-year-old art student in San Antonio who had received a work permit under Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which is now threatened by Trump. Picked up on a minor pot bust Feb. 21, Romero was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), held for two days—and told by ICE agents that he would be deported to Honduras. Instead, he was released, without explanation. "I can't describe how I feel. I just want to break down and cry," Romero told the San Antonio Express-News after his release. "I was kind of devastated. Because I’ve never known a life outside of San Antonio."
Romero was arrested by San Antonio cops for being in a city park shortly after closing time. He was found to be in possession of "2 ounces or less of marijuana"—a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, with a potential penalty of 180 days in jail. As it now stands, DACA status can be revoked for a "significant misdemeanor"—which in the case of drug charges usually means allegations of trafficking or distribution. "Even with a conviction, it would not rise to the level of canceling his DACA," Jonathan Ryan, the executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), representing Romero, told the Express-News.
Romero, a student at the Southwest School of Art, came to the US when he was four and knows little of Honduras, his mother told the Express-News. His father, José Francisco Romero, said he couldn't eat or sleep after learning that his son was under ICE detention. "I'm just happy he’s back with us," he told the newspaper.
Young Romero said ICE agents told him "DACA doesn't matter in my situation, that I was going to be deported." ICE gave no reason for Romero's releas in a terse statement on the matter, only noting: "Romero-Velasquez was issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge Dec. 3, 2004. ICE remains focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes threats to national security, public safety and border security."
Trump has yet to formally overturn DACA, but US Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) tweeted last week that he'd met with ICE officials and was told that "Only Dreamers with no offenses (including traffic tickets) or perceived gang affiliations seem exempt" from deportation. "Dreamers" refers to those enrolled in the DACA program.
Romero's harrowing episode came just as the Homeland Security Department, which oversees ICE, issued new memoranda to implement Trump's executive orders on tightening immigration enforcement. As the New York Times states, the memoranda call for "unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes." Intended measures include: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police as enforcers; build new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and speed up deportations. The memoranda vastly expand the definition of "criminal aliens," and employ rhetoric warning that "Criminal aliens routinely victimize Americans" and "pose a threat” to people in communities across the United States.
In another nightmarish case reported from Texas this week, an undocumented immigrant diagnosed with a brain tumor while under ICE custody was returned to a detention center from a hospital—in irons and against her will. The woman, a Salvadoran national identified only as Sara, was discharged from a hospital in Fort Worth and taken to an ICE lock-up in rural Alvarado. "She told us they tied her hands and ankles in her condition," Melissa Zuniga, a member of Sara's legal team, told The Hill. "She's complaining of a lot of pain." Zuniga said Sara, 26, was cut off from communication with her family and lawyers, even after the hospital and ICE had cleared her mother for unrestricted phone access.
The ICE website is meanwhile boasting cases with headlines like "ICE arrests Honduran fugitive wanted for machete murders of 2 men." Agents in North Carolina "arrested an at-large fugitive alien," named as Francisco Escobar-Orellana, who "is wanted in Honduras pursuant to a May 2005 arrest warrant for allegedly hacking two men to death with a machete at a liquor store in 1993."
In New York City, brazen activists meanwhile taunted the Trump administration's crackdown by dropping a giant "Refugees Welcome" banner down the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, as the Daily News reports.
Of course, the Central Americans in the United States are generally not considered "refugees," but given the level of narco-violence on the isthmus, maybe they should be. Mexican immigration authorities were recently assailed by human rights groups for forcibly returning children that might qualify for formal protection from violence in Central America. The US has been pressuring Mexico to intercept these desperate migrants before the reach the US border. But it looks like the pressure within the US borders is now being jacked up dramatically.
Cross-post to High Times
Photo: BBC World Service via Flickr