Late last month Lizandro Claros Saravia informed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that he had earned a scholarship to play soccer at Louisburg College in North Carolina. In response, within a week, ICE swiftly deported Lizandro and his older brother Diego back to El Salvador.
“We’ve never seen a deportation that fast,” said George Escobar, the senior director of human services at CASA de Maryland, who represents Lizandro and Diego, to The Daily Beast.
Under the Obama administration, Lizandro, 19, and Diego, 22, who have no criminal record and have been living in Maryland with their family since 2009, were not considered priorities for deportation. Through Obama’s presidency and into the Trump administration, the boys have consistently kept up with their check-ins with ICE.
Upon hearing news of the scholarship, the boys informed ICE that they wanted to relocate to North Carolina—Lizandro only earned a partial scholarship, so Diego wanted to move with him and find a job to help pay his brother’s tuition—and continue their check-ins there.
“ICE indicates to CASA that they will favorably consider the request, but that they want the brothers to still come in” for a scheduled July 28 check-in appointment, said Escobar. “The minute they come in, ICE splits them from their attorneys, and the kids are put in another room. The attorney repeatedly asks for an update, and ICE does not tell them anything.”
According to Escobar, roughly seven hours pass after the ambush by ICE agents, and no one at CASA has been told about the boys’ whereabouts. Escobar searches ICE’s website and finds that the brothers have already been transferred to the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup, Maryland.
On Thursday, Aug. 4, CASA planned on arguing that the boys should be able to apply for asylum and halt their deportation. They have an aunt, who is from the same neighborhood in El Salvador that the brothers fled in 2009, who is currently applying for asylum. The United States has a travel warning against the nation discouraging Americans from visiting and in 2016, El Salvador was named the murder capital of the world due to the rampant gang violence.
But by Tuesday, the boys were already aboard a flight back to El Salvador.
Additionally, when CASA inquired further about the deportation, they were informed that Lizandro’s desire to attend college contributed to his swift deportation because it indicated “that they are not planning on leaving anytime soon.”
“They were issued a final removal order by an immigration judge on Nov. 7, 2012… Since 2016, ICE deportation officers in Baltimore have instructed them to purchase a ticket for their departure,” said Michael Bourke, a spokesman for ICE, to The Daily Beast via email.
In December of 2016, after the election, Diego was ordered to purchase a ticket, but Lizandro was not, according to Escobar. ICE says that both were ordered to purchase tickets. Escobar says this is an intimidation tactic that ICE uses and it almost never provides additional information or guidance about when to purchase the tickets or procedures to follow.
Does ICE honestly expect people to just break up their own families instead of seeking to pursue a path for them to stay together?
According to Escobar, during their next check-in, ICE agents did not ask either brother about tickets and instead told both of them to apply for DACA and present proof of their application at the following check-in. However, since the brothers arrived in 2009, and DACA only applies to arrivals from 2007 and before, they are ineligible. The next time they saw ICE they were deported.
The treatment of Lizandro and Diego shows the brokenness of our laws, the dangers of the Trump administration’s policies, and the traumatic social instability that occurs when an entire community of people is demonized.
Lizandro, Diego, and the rest of their family came to America to escape gang-related violence, but American immigration policy remains resistant to considering them refugees. America adheres to a standard forged after World War II that aims to accept refugees from nations consumed in political and governmental violence and terror. The gang-related terror that has engulfed El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (the region is known as the Northern Triangle) does not adhere to this antiquated standard.
The unrelenting terror at home and America’s policy of essentially ignoring their refuge claims places families in these nations with a complex and increasingly dangerous path to safety. It is harder for families to flee together or obtain the preferred immigration status before they are forced to leave their homes, and many of these families in America like the Claros Saravias have mixed immigration statuses. Lizandro and Diego arrived in 2009 as unaccompanied minors, overstayed their visas, and initially received poor legal advice about the proper steps they should take to improve their immigration status. This scenario is incredibly common, and Trump’s policies will result in more families being broken up, and people being sent back into war zones.
By demonizing an entire group of people, America eventually skews or changes the laws to disadvantage this group. The increased stigmatizing of Muslim Americans, Trump’s travel bans for Middle Eastern countries, and his reluctance to accept Syrian refugees are other examples of this oppressive template. And both of these are derivations of the policies and manipulations that America has used to oppress and criminalize African Americans.
This practice results in the punishing of those who seek to follow the rules like the Claros Saravias and inclines these communities to go underground and not comply with the law. The community is placed in a lose-lose situation. Civil actions undertaken by these minority communities are depicted as threats to white Americans, and as Lizandro and Diego show law enforcement becomes an entity you can no longer trust.
The Claros Saravias’ situation does not directly impact the lives of most Americans, but the criminalization of entire communities and the ensuing policies that broke up this family have shaped the lives of American minorities for countless generations. This oppressive status quo has continued to turn America into a less humane, democratic, and equitable nation.