[The New York Times] Paying Price, 16 Years Later, for an Illegal Entry
By JOHN ELIGON and DAMIEN CAVE MARCH 19, 2014 [http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/03/20/us/DEPORT/DEPORT-master675.jpg]
Photographs of Josue Noe Sandoval-Perez and his children on the refrigerator of their home. Mr. Sandoval-Perez, 41, in the country illegally for 16 years, was deported to Mexico in January. Credit Steve Hebert for The New York Times
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The cellblock intercom awoke Josue Noe Sandoval-Perez at 1 o’clock on a frigid January morning at a detention center in northwest Missouri: Get your things, get ready to go. Immigration officials were preparing to whisk him away.
A day earlier the government denied an appeal of his deportation order, but no one told his family, nor was he allowed to call.
So while Mr. Sandoval-Perez, 41, an illegal immigrant with a previous deportation on his record, was beginning his journey back to his native Mexico, his family was clinging to hope at a rally in a park here. Holding signs, they argued that he had been in the country for 16 years, had no criminal record, paid taxes and was the primary breadwinner for his children — one an American citizen, the other an immigrant who is here legally.
He was dropped off that night in Matamoros, a violence-ridden Mexican border town. When he called his wife, Josefina Aguilar, from outside a bus station to tell her what happened, gunshots could be heard.
Josue Noe Sandoval-Perez. “He has the power to end this discrimination, to change this,” he said of President Obama. Credit Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times “I was just crying a lot, like my world was over,” Ms. Aguilar, 40, recalled.
Mr. Sandoval-Perez’s case — as described by him, his family and court documents — previews the difficulties President Obama will face in a review he ordered last week, asking the Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, to come up with a more “humane” deportation policy.
Like Mr. Sandoval-Perez, many immigrants here illegally might qualify for protection from deportation if strong ties to family and community and steady work records were taken into account, but they also have past immigration violations that could count heavily against them.
The review comes too late to help Mr. Sandoval-Perez. But his case was among dozens that immigrant advocates presented to the White House last Friday as an example of how Mr. Obama’s enforcement policies had torn apart generally law-abiding families, separating breadwinning parents from children who have known no other country but the United States.
“Josue is a perfect example of a case that they should have exercised prosecutorial discretion on,” said Richard Morales, the detention prevention coordinator at the PICO National Network, an organization of faith-based community groups. “We welcome the news from the president, but we need to see details.”
In an interview at an apartment that he shares with his sister-in-law in Mexico City, Mr. Sandoval-Perez was more pointed about what he wanted from Mr. Obama.
“He has the power to end this discrimination, to change this,” said Mr. Sandoval-Perez, holding a blue plastic folder with all his deportation documents. “Families have to stop being separated.”
Immigration officials declined to comment on the specifics of their decision not to grant Mr. Sandoval-Perez leniency. A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that the agency’s deportation priorities included “convicted criminals, immigration fugitives and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States.”
She added that the agency had begun to take a hard look at whether it could further align its enforcement policies with the “goal of sound law enforcement practice that prioritizes public safety,” which could mean more leniency for some immigrants with prior deportations.
A study released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that federal court convictions of immigrants who returned illegally after deportation — like Mr. Sandoval-Perez — had increased 28-fold over the past two decades, from 690 in 1992 to 19,463 in 2012. That rise accounts for nearly half the growth of all federal convictions over that time span, the report said.
But for now, as immigration overhaul efforts have stalled in Congress, the Obama administration has found itself having to adjudicate cases that present compelling arguments for and against deportation.
Mr. Sandoval-Perez, whose shaved head and hulking frame appeared intimidating until he cried at every mention of his daughter, acknowledged that he first tried to cross the border illegally with a green card that belonged to someone else in October 1998.
But he barely set foot into the country then. American officials stopped him at the border entrance to El Paso and did an expedited removal, which is legally a deportation. Two days later, he successfully crossed, meeting his wife and infant son, Erik, who had also entered illegally a few days earlier.
Holding Mr. Sandoval-Perez’s previous deportation against him violates the spirit of the system, argued David Leopold, a Cleveland-based immigration lawyer, because the guideline is intended to target “somebody who serially re-enters the country, who doesn’t have any ties to the United States.”
Josefina Aguilar, the wife of Mr. Sandoval-Perez, and her son, Erik Sandoval, looking at photographs of Mr. Sandoval-Perez. Credit Steve Hebert for The New York Times
“They need to use their common sense,” Mr. Leopold said of immigration officials.
If the immigration bill that passed the United States Senate last year were law, Mr. Leopold said, Mr. Sandoval-Perez could have been eligible for amnesty.
But Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates less immigration and opposes the Senate bill, said that Mr. Sandoval-Perez’s case bolstered the argument for focusing on tougher immigration enforcement.
“To me it shows the importance of having other programs in place that deter illegal settlement so that fewer people are able to stay here for that long a period of time and build a life here before being ordered removed,” Ms. Vaughan said.
Mr. Sandoval-Perez’s son, Erik, now 17, has a legal deportation reprieve under a 2012 Obama administration program. Erik, a high school junior, avidly plays the video game Call of Duty, fixes cars (which he learned from his father) and works at a clothing store. Mr. Sandoval-Perez’s daughter, Nayelly, 12, who was born in the United States, is a blossoming basketball star who learned the game from her father.
Both fought back tears as they recently spoke about their father, in the white trailer decorated with images of Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe where they live on the eastern edge of Kansas City. Nayelly recalled playing a basketball game the night she found out her father had been deported.
“Every time I would get the ball, I couldn’t even dribble,” she said. “I couldn’t even, like, make a shot.”
Mr. Sandoval-Perez and his wife say they came to the United States because they could not make a living wage in Mexico. They settled in Kansas City, where Mr. Sandoval-Perez worked in cabinet factories and, most recently, at a scrap yard. Last April, he said, he took coins from some of the cars in the scrap yard to a machine at a grocery store that converts change into bills. The machine jammed, police officers approached him and asked him for identification and where he worked. He told them everything, he said. They did not take any action against him.
But in January, officers showed up at the scrap yard and arrested him on a misdemeanor theft charge for using damaged currency in the machine.
Mr. Sandoval-Perez was one of several people arrested after an investigation by the department’s fraud unit, a spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department said. Mr. Sandoval-Perez had several pieces of identification with different names on them, the spokesman said, so they called immigration officials to verify his identity, which led to his being placed on a hold.
Mr. Sandoval-Perez denied that he had multiple identifications and described the arrest as “discriminatory.”
After about a week in the city’s custody during which he did not have access to a shower, he was sent to an immigration detention facility about an hour north of Kansas City. On the outside, Communities Creating Opportunity, a faith-based community advocacy organization aligned with PICO, rallied members of the local clergy, got Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, Democrat of Missouri, to write a letter in support of Mr. Sandoval-Perez’s release and got a lawyer to file for a stay of deportation.
Inside, Mr. Sandoval-Perez believed he would soon be released. But, he said, in the early hours of Jan. 31 — after the stay was denied, but before any of his supporters were notified — he was awakened by the message on the intercom in his immigration cell. Immigration officials said he was awakened early to prepare for his deportation but was allowed to return to sleep before being transported.
The night before, he said, the authorities pressured him to sign a final deportation document, but did not give him a copy. He initially refused and said he wanted to talk to his lawyer, but the officers told him not to worry about it. “Sign first,” he recalled their saying, “then you can talk to your lawyer.”
After about 10 hours in a holding area, he was flown with about 40 others to Brownsville, Tex., he said.
The authorities separated him from the group. He was sent across into Matamoros, after the other deportees, with just a brown paper bag holding his meager belongings — his wallet, a belt, his wedding ring and his cellphone, dead from days without a charge.
John Eligon reported from Kansas City, and Damien Cave from Mexico City. Julia Preston contributed reporting from New York.
A version of this article appears in print on March 20, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Paying Price, 16 Years Later, for an Illegal Entry.
Paying Price, 16 Years Later, for an Illegal Entry
[The New York Times] Paying Price, 16 Years Later, for an Illegal Entry