A 19-year-old Honduran immigrant detained this week said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told him he would be deported despite receiving legal protection from an Obama-era program.
Josue Romero of San Antonio, Texas, was arrested by police while exiting a park where he had been skateboarding Tuesday night. He was held on a charge for marijuana possession before being transferred to ICE custody. Though he’s since been released, his case leaves open the question about how long protection for “Dreamers” will stand under the Trump administration.
Last week, immigration authorities in Seattle detained a 23-year-old DACA recipient asleep in his father’s home. Daniel Ramirez Medina has no criminal record, and has had his work visa renewed twice, but ICE officials have publicly alleged that Ramirez is a gang member, as evidenced by a tattoo. Ramirez’s attorneys deny this and are challenging his detention in federal court.
Romero called his family from jail early Wednesday morning to tell them he had been arrested. He was charged with a misdemeanor of marijuana possession.
“I went with his aunt to pay the $800 bond, and they said he’d come out in two hours, but he hasn’t been released,” Romero’s father told a Univision affiliate.
Instead of getting out of jail, Romero was handed over to ICE.
Adelina Pruneda, a public affairs officer for ICE, told The Daily Beast in an emailed statement before the release:
“On Feb. 16, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed a detainer with Bexar County Jail on Josue Romero-Velasquez, from Honduras. He was later transferred to ICE custody. Romero-Velasquez was issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge Dec. 3, 2004.”
Further requests for comment were declined.
Romero told The Daily Beast that ICE told him he would be deported.
“They told me within the next week I would be flying to Honduras,” he said. “I was hoping until that point I would be able to fight my case, and thought I’d have a good chance. Even when I asked about DACA, they told me there was nothing I could do, that there were no second chances with Trump.” ICE declined to comment on these allegations other than to state Romero had been released.
In some circumstances, DACA status can be revoked for drug charges involving trafficking or distribution. Romero was charged with possession of two ounces or less of marijuana, a misdemeanor in Texas punishable by 180 days in jail or a maximum fine of $2,000. According to Romero’s attorneys, he does not have a previous criminal record.
Romero was put in a van with other detainees for transportation to an ICE detention facility in Pearsall, Texas.
“At that point I had lost hope,” he said. “I didn’t think there was anything to do but wait. It was incredibly depressing.”
Then he was released mid-way through the trip.
“I was the only one taken off that van. They took off my shackles and handcuffs and told me I was being released.”
According to advocates, this is the first time a DACA recipient has been detained by ICE in Texas during the Trump administration.
“This is the first case that has come to my desk,” said Jonathan Ryan, the executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). He continued, “There’s no legal precedent set by this case, but it’s clear ICE and the administration are attempting to send messages through these enforcement actions, and we do not intend to let their messages to stand unanswered.” Ryan and RAICES will provide legal counsel to Romero, and initiated an advocacy campaign to get him released.
Romero moved to the United States at age 4 and is protected under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The young people, often referred to as “Dreamers,” are immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. DACA applicants must fulfill several requirements. The applicant must have been under 31 as of June 15, 2012, come to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, lived continuously in the U.S., studied in high school, not been convicted of a felony or had certain misdemeanors, consult an attorney, and be able to pay the $465.00 fee, among other requirements. The process takes several months. If they gain DACA, students in 18 states are allowed to apply for in-state tuition rates, and are granted work permits. Over 750,000 young men and women have acquired DACA protection so far.
President Donald Trump has said that he will deport 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records, and has considered revoking DACA. The immigrant community is on edge after Trump signed an executive order which broadens who ICE can target for deportation.
Immigration authorities released a public statement on Monday from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, touting more than 680 arrests of undocumented immigrants during a week-long operation. They provided footage of some of the arrests in a link.
Romero is a second-year student at Southwest School of Art, and an employee at a woodshop for SAY Si, a San Antonio after-school program.
Romero’s voice shook with relief as he recounted his reunion with family, and his surprise over the community support, “I enjoyed the comfort of being able to sleep in my own bed. It feels good to home.”