DREAMer Hector Lopez Spends Christmas With His Family
Dreamer Hector Lopez was deported earlier this year to Mexico. He'd been brought to the U.S. as an infant and hadn't known he had no legal status until he was arrested this year by immigration agents. He came back across the border in an act of desperation and was detained upon reentry. He applied for asylum, but was only released recently through the efforts of advocate Ralph Isenberg. He was reunited with his family in Portland yesterday.
I keep watching for evidence of a policy shift from DHS on their current practice of locking up and deporting DREAM Act-eligible youth, and wondering when President Obama's actions will catch up to his words of support for Dreamers. Hector was arrested in August, after Julia Preston reported in the New York Times that the administration had stopped deporting Dreamers. John Morton, head of ICE, claimed in the article:
In a world of limited resources, our time is better spent on someone who is here unlawfully and is committing crimes in the neighborhood . . . As opposed to someone who came to this country as a juvenile and spent the vast majority of their life here.
Evidently ICE has decided that Morton's statement represented a vague aspirational observation that wasn't translatable into concrete policy or practice. Or, less charitably, it was a lie.
While it's true that, in limited cases, ICE has exercised favorable discretion to allow Dreamers to stay in the U.S., in the majority of cases, Dreamers in removal proceedings have been treated no differently than anyone else. Even in those few instances where the agency has chosen not to deport, ICE has only been swayed after intense organizing from supporters and activists has resulted in national media attention and support from politicians. It's unfortunate that Preston's story from this summer seems to have become the conventional wisdom--it was even cited in a recent decision (pdf, FN38) by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a legal argument--because it simply isn't the case that ICE has adopted a policy to stop deporting Dreamers.
Hector was a Dreamer and he was deported just like thousands of other undocumented youth this year who didn't have access to the network of Dreamers and allies that have held off ICE in a handful of cases. President Obama's words in support of Dreamers ring hollow in the face of his agencies' coordinated efforts to deport as many DREAM-eligible youth as possible. I hope that Hector's release from detention represents a change in policy in how DHS processes Dreamers, but I fear otherwise.
Hector's story as told in the Oregonian represents one happy (and possibly temporary) outcome out of thousands of stories of heartbreak and family separation this Christmas:
Hector Lopez of Milwaukie walked off a Southwest Airlines flight Christmas Eve into his mother's arms at Portland International Airport, returning from a four-month deportation odyssey to Mexico even though he did not know until he was arrested that he is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident.
His mother, Sara Flores, and his 15-year-old brother, Luis, grabbed Lopez and hugged him tightly as they cried together; still and video photographers captured the scene as dozens of arriving passengers swirled around the reunion. Friends brought signs and balloons.
Luis gave Lopez an American flag, and Flores said the turkey she bought for Thanksgiving will be roasted for Christmas dinner.
A moment later, Lopez, 20, looked into the cameras and said, "There are millions of stories like mine. If I can shed light on them, so be it." He wiped his eyes. "It's surreal to be back at PDX. I didn't know if I would ever see this place again."
Lopez's parents brought him to the United States when he was 6 months old. He grew up in Milwaukie, and when he was 9, Lopez said, his parents hired a lawyer to obtain proper papers; the lawyer got the family work documents then disappeared. A deportation order was issued for the family, but they did not know about it.
In the meantime, Lopez said, his parents never told him about the immigration problems, even as he coached Little League baseball and was elected president of the student body at Rex Putnam High School.
On Aug. 23 this year, Lopez and his father were arrested on the deportation order and sent back to Mexico. His mother won a delay to stay with Luis, who was born in Oregon.
Hector Lopez does not speak Spanish. In Mexico City, Lopez said, he was threatened, and in fear for his life he fled in November to the U.S. border and asked for asylum. He was placed in a detention facility in Florence, Ariz. His father, however, remains deported in Mexico.
Last week, immigration authorities said he could pursue an asylum case and could be released until his next appearance before immigration authorities Jan. 6 in Arizona.
Getting out was going to take a few more weeks though, except for an unrelenting push by a wealthy Texas real estate developer who took an interest in Lopez. Ralph Isenberg of Dallas became an immigration advocate after fighting his wife's immigration problems, and in the past few weeks, he has besieged authorities to release Lopez for Christmas.
Isenberg sent a friend, longtime civil rights advocate the Rev. Peter Johnson, to Phoenix, and Johnson offered to take Lopez' place in the detention facility so that he could come home. Instead, Lopez was freed Thursday night, and he boarded the flight for home Friday.