Father’s Day should have been pure bliss for the little boy whose testimony in immigration court prompted an apparent miracle in the time of Trump.
But despite a surprise verdict last month that appeared to be deliverance itself, eight-year-old Henry Medrano is spending the day in heart-wrenching separation from the father who remains in a New Jersey jail used as an ICE detention facility.
Today, the future seems nearly as bleak as it did on April 3, when Henry climbed into a witness chair in a downtown Manhattan.
His father, 31-year-old Henry Medrano, sat against a far wall in an orange jump suit, his hands manacled and affixed to a chain around his waist lest he attempt to escape being deported back to his native El Salvador after 14 years in America.
The law does allow an undocumented immigrant who has been the U.S. for at least 10 continuous years to apply for permanent residence if “removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to the alien’s spouse, parent, or child, who is a citizen of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence.”
Hector is a U.S. born citizen. Court papers indicate that his mother abandoned him when he was 13 months old and that his father was effectively his sole parent. Hector would necessarily have to go along if his father was deported, and court papers further show that the boy suffers from severe asthma and allergies requiring medical treatment that would not be readily available in El Salvador.
“I would pretty much be taking him to his death,” the father told the court.
But the statute requires an applicant for permanent residence to have “been a person of good moral character during such period.” The applicant also cannot have been convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude” that carries a penalty a year or longer. The applicant further cannot have been convicted of two crimes of moral turpitude carrying whatever penalty.
The father had been arrested for DUI on New Year’s Day in 2010. He had also been arrested on August 1 of last year for making unwelcome advances on a woman with an asbestos abatement crew in the same public bathhouse under renovation at a Long Island Beach where the father was working construction.
The father would later insist he only pled guilty to a misdemeanor unlawful imprisonment on January 10, 2017 because he was advised to do otherwise risked conviction of a crime that would get him deported with potentially deadly consequences for his son. The father admitted in court to kissing the woman and briefly keeping her from getting away. He served 75 days and figured that would be that and he would resume his life with his son.
But the country now had a new president who had campaigned on a promise to do something about what his campaign characterized as the dire threat posed by criminal illegal immigrants. The father was remanded and slated for deportation pending a hearing, during which the witnesses prominently included little Hector.
“Hi, Hector,” immigration judge Mimi Tsankov said when he settled into the witness chair.
“Hi,” Hector said.
“Thank you for coming to court,” the judge said.
As was reported by the Daily Beast back at the time of the hearing, Hector is too young to take the usual oath. The judge instead asked him if he understood the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie.
“Telling a lie is when you’re not telling exactly what’s true,” Hector said. 1“Telling the truth is when you’re saying exactly what happened.”
His response appeared to strike a note in everyone present. Here was principle too many of us in the country are presently in need of reminding ourselves.
“That’s a very good definition,” the judge said.
The father’s lawyer, Livius Ilasz, began the direct examination. Hector testified that he had always lived in New York.
“I was having a happy life here growing up,” the boy said.
Hector further testified that he was in the third grade and his school was fine, but he had not gone that day.
“Because I had to go in to my dad, check to see if he is coming out,” Hector said.
“You know your father is being questioned by the government so the government can decide if you father can stay…” Ilasz began.
Hector completed the sentence.
“Or be deported,” Hector said.
His tone was even, steady.
“You understand that?” Ilasz asked.
“Yes,” the boy said.
He then said of his father, “Sometimes, he’s tired. I always try to cheer him up. And if he’s down, I start hugging him.”
The judge spoke.
“I don’t want him to get too emotional,” she said. “Let’s take a break. This is tough.”
After a brief recess, the lawyer for the government cross-examined the boy, seeking to cast doubt on how long he had lived continuously in New York and when exactly he had been diagnosed with asthma. The boy remained perfectly composed.
“You did such a good job,” the judge told him at the end. “You gave us a lot of helpful information. I know your dad is very proud of you.”
The judge’s eyes were welling and she remarked that the courtroom should keep a supply of tissues. The father's face was wet with tears. The boy remained dry-eyed as he left the courtroom and continued out of the federal building on Varick Street to begin the wait for a ruling.
The judge had said she would issue her decision in writing and it finally came a full month later, on May 4. The judge allowed that “this was a very difficult case” and said she was “troubled by the circumstances surrounding [the father’s] 2017 conviction for attempted unlawful imprisonment in the second degree.”
But the judge went on to say that the father—referred to in the court papers as the Respondent—had “expressed genuine remorse for his actions and has paid his debt to society.” The judge added, “Respondent expressed an understanding that his conduct has negatively impacted his family and the community and testified that he will never repeat these actions again.”
The judge continued: “Although the Court does not excuse Respondent’s behavior, the Court notes that there are many other factors in the record, such as gainful employment as well as family and community ties.”
She proceeded to describe the father that little dry-eyed Hector had described in court.
“Respondent is clearly a supportive, devoted father and hard worker who has dedicated himself to providing and caring for his eight-year-old son. Ever since Hector’s mother abandoned him when he was only a year old, Respondent has stepped up as Hector's primary caretaker by supporting him financially, emotionally, and physically.”
The judge offered a conclusion that echoed what Hector had said in such even tones in the courtroom.
“Weighing all the relevant factors, including his troubling actions· that led to his arrest in August 2016 as well as his expressions of genuine remorse the Court concludes that Respondent has shown that he has been a person of good moral character over the past ten years.”
One hurdle remained. The judge noted that, “to establish ‘exceptional and extremely unusual hardship,’ an applicant for cancellation of removal must demonstrate that his qualifying spouse, child or parent would suffer hardship substantially beyond that which would ordinarily result from an alien’s removal.”
The judge found that the Respondent met the requirement because the deportation of a primary caregiver as good and critical important as the one described by the son in court would “result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to· his son, Hector.
“Respondent 'stepped into the breach’ that followed the abandonment by Hector's mother, and has provided Hector with the love, care and tenderness that is mandatory for all children to grow,” the judge wrote. “Hector depends on his father for emotional, physical, and financial support… Hector has relied on his father to provide him his asthma treatment two to three times each day, which has helped prevent asthma attacks or complications that may require that Hector be hospitalized.”
The judge cited court exhibits that show “Hector has had no hospital admissions for his asthma mostly due to his caregiver’s vigilance…Respondent has brought Hector in for all sick and well visits since 2013.”
She further cited a psychologist's evaluation of the boy, which found that Hector's “emotional and mental well being” were already suffering “as a result of his separation form his primary caregiver.”
“As a result of their current separation, Hector has even stopped eating at times,” the judge reported, noting that Hector had “testified that his ‘family is not the same’ without Respondent and he feels upset that [his] ‘dad is not with the family.’”
The judge observed, “up until Respondent's detention, Hector had never spent more than a day separated from his father.”
On the 16th page of balanced reasoning such as should underlie the true art of the deal, the judge reached a determination.
“Therefore, after carefully considering the record, the Court finds that the positive equities in this case outweigh the negative factors. Although Respondent has a criminal history, he has shown genuine remorse and paid his debt to society. Thus, the Court finds that Respondent has met his burden of proof and warrants a favorable exercise of discretion as to his application for relief.”
The next words were the stuff of a little boy’s dearest dream.
“IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Respondent's application for Cancellation of Removal… be GRANTED.”
The lawyer, Ilasz, was exultant. The father’s release seemed to be just a formality and the lawyer said his client might be home in a day or two.
“A miracle!” the lawyer exclaimed.
But the government had 30 days to appeal and the authorities insisted on keeping the father behind bars.
On May 11, the government filed a “Notice of Appeal from a Decision of an Immigration Judge.” The document reiterated the government's previous position, empathizing that Medrano had not filed a tax return until his present immigration troubles. Never mind that undocumented immigrants who file might as well be calling ICE to say “come get me.”
“The respondent has shown a blatant disregard for the laws of the United States regarding income taxes,” the appeal said. “When viewed in conjunction with his criminal history, the respondent has not demonstrated the requisite good moral character of an average citizen.”
The father's lawyer filed a response on May 31st, reiterating his case and the judge’s reasoning. Ilasz argued that the government’s appeal failed to show that the judge’s ruling was in serious error.
“It cannot be credibly argued that the Immigration Judge abused her discretion when she made [a] balancing task of favorable and unfavorable factors in arriving to her decision,” the reply contended.
The case has now gone to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which says that it tries to reach a decision within 180 days. Ilasz said he cannot predict the outcome.
“If not for the election…” he said.
Hector continues to go day after day without his father, who remains incarcerated at the Hudson County Correctional Facility, wearing an orange jump suit identical to the one he wore in court. The father calls his son daily and tells him all the fun they will have when they are reunited.
“Then he is happy,” the father told The Daily Beast during a visit last week. “It takes him away from what is in his mind.”
But the effect is only momentary and ends along with the call. Any immediate chance the father might be released on bond ended with a hearing on Tuesday. The son did not testify and a new judge did not see he father through the boy’s eyes. The judge instead saw him through the statement to the police by the woman from the unlawful imprisonment case. The judge ruled he should remain in custody.
Now sitting behind the Plexiglas that separates inmates from visitors, the father recalled that when he first encountered the woman at the job site that day she had asked him if he supported Hillary Clinton of Donald Trump. He said that he had told her that he had no time for politics, only work.
“I said, ‘I work, I eat. I don’t work, I don’t eat,’” he recalled.
The election of the candidate who once bragged of being able to do whatever he wanted with women because he was a celebrity had now placed the father in danger of being deported as a dire threat because he had been arrested for making unwelcome advances.
The father pondered the end of what had been an all-American existence; a happy kid thriving in school, a house with a mortgage, a job in construction that had started with a one day hire that he so impressed the boss that it became full time with good pay and hours that allowed him to be there when his son came home from school and enough flexibility to take the boy to the doctor when needed.
“I had a good life,” the father said.
He was asked what his life had been like back in El Salvador when he was his son’s age.
“I didn’t have a life in my county,” he replied. “That’s why I want him to be here, to have a kid life.”
“I just want for him to be happy,” the father said.
He placed his open right hand on his chest.
“He is my life.”
Pride eclipsed despair as he spoke of the many people in court and school and seemingly everywhere else who have remarked on his uncommonly bright son’s remarkable sense of self and purpose.
“I know in this county he could be somebody,” the father said, “I know it!”
In the meantime, the father says that his son cannot visit him without the mother’s permission and she is nowhere to be found. The boy would not be able to visit him on Fathers Day evening if the jail did have visiting that day, which it does not.
After Father’s Day will come the end of the school year and the question of what Hector will do for the summer. The father’s wife has to work to keep the family going and there will be nobody home to care for the boy.
“What’s he going to do?” the father asked.
A corrections officer then announced visiting time was over. The man who was almost miraculously freed by his son’s testimony rose and strode back toward the cells, where he would be spending Father’s Day.