Bringing Papá home for the holidays, from immigration detention

Colorado family torn up by deportation proceedings waits for Obama immigration action to kick in

Bringing Papá home for the holidays, from immigration detention

When immigration authorities first came to Jose Luis Guerrero Luna’s door in Aurora, they were looking for someone else.

“We didn’t really know our rights and wanted to cooperate, so my husband ended up giving them his ID,” said Sofia Angeles, who like Luis has lived in the United States for two decades without papers.

She sat on her couch as we spoke, flanked by the family’s five children. The youngest, two-year-old Lucy, slept in her arms. Luis wasn’t there. He hasn’t been there for five months.

Luis is being held at the Geo Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Aurora, fighting deportation proceedings. Part of the reason I ended up in his family’s living room is because Luis was nearly deported the Friday before last and his lawyers and advocates have gone into hyper-drive, pushing his story out to the media and launching an online petition requesting a more thorough review of his case.

On the face of it, Luis’s case doesn’t seem to need that thorough of a review. He has four children who are U.S. citizens and no criminal record. He has been in the country for years and runs his own drywalling business. He pays taxes and is a leader in a local church. If you listened to President Obama last month announce the executive action he was taking on immigration deportation policy, you’re probably thinking, “Didn’t I just hear about this dad, or a dad very like him, when the president delivered the personal-story portion of his immigration speech?”

Obama’s action expand who qualifies for deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) and it creates a similar program for some parents of U.S. citizens called DAPA. That new program won’t be up and running until the summer, but the White House has instructed immigration officials to proactively review cases that could qualify. Luis’s lawyers and advocates say he’s a poster parent for the program.

But I said Luis had no criminal record. That was actually my view. Luis does have a kind of record. He was deported in 2004 and he returned to the States.

“We don’t think it should be a considered a problem, because of his continuous presence in the country since then, and because it’s not a criminal conviction, but an immigration [conviction],” said Brendan Greene, one of Luis’s advocates and an attorney at the Colorado Immigrant’s Rights Coalition (CIRC). They should take that into account and give discretion to people with low safety risks.”

According to Luis’s immigration lawyer, James Sarpong, the removal complication in this case could be an important bellwether on how the president’s DAPA program will play out. The truth is many people who might qualify for the program have wracked up records like :uis’s record.

“As far as DAPA is concerned, based on what’s out there, there isn’t much on somebody who has had a prior removal order, whether that disqualifies them or not. From what I’ve seen, they’re leaving that up to discretion,” said Sarpong.

luis fam alter

Luis serves as a eucharistic minister at the family’s Queen of Peace Church in Aurora.

Angeles says that, so far, in weighing this kind of immigration case, she doesn’t think ICE is taking real-life human factors into account.

“[Luis] came back in 2005 for the same reason he came in the first place — because of the children, because of his kids,” she told me. “My oldest son, Anthony, at that time was only about five. He was just going to kindergarten. My daughter was a baby, a year old. They were so small, so young, and I didn’t have anyone, no support or help. He needed to come back to help me.”

A decade later, Angeles has found herself back in a similar position.

“Now is the most difficult time for us because I have to work two jobs,” she said. “I am doing the work of the both of us.”

Angeles wakes up around six to take the five kids — aged 2 to 16 — to their various schools. Then she begins her day-job as a janitor in a building downtown. She finishes work in time for after-school pickup. She cooks dinner. Before she can help with homework or get the kids in activities, she’s off to her evening cleaning job, which lasts until 2 a.m.

“I barely sleep,” she said. “It’s been really hard, these are things he used to help with.”

The kids tell stories about sad birthdays, dropping out of soccer, falling grades.

“Our family is always together,” said Anthony, the eldest. “We’re always together and if we are going through a hard situation, we all of us together find a solution. We don’t try to make this a one-person problem. Everybody can contribute and find a way to get out… We need him because he’s the one who gives us hope in our lives. He’s always been there and never failed.”

Although immigration authorities initially informed Luis that he would not qualify for DAPA due to his re-entry charge, they have since clarified that the case is still under review. ICE did not return calls for comment on this story. Luis’s lawyers have also petitioned for what’s called a stay, temporary and discretionary relief, from deportation, which ICE could issue literally any day.

“The only thing we want from Santa is my dad,” Jennifer, 13, read from a letter she wrote to immigration authorities.

As her daughter read, I implore you, please let him stay. He needs us, we need him, I need him, Angeles’s face was a mask.

“I don’t think it’s fair that — without a criminal record or a bad history — that my family should be separated and destroyed,” said Angeles. “After everything we’ve done to be right with the law — paying taxes, following the law to the best of our ability — it seems like a big injustice.”

Both Angeles and Greene acknowledge some discontent in the community regarding the immigration action — it’s developing slowly and it’s potential impact on real-life cases is still too vague.

“ICE has been asked to review cases proactively and use their discretion. We think this case is a perfect example,” said Greene. “Every case deserves thorough review that takes into consideration all factors: community ties, ties with family, the length of their presence in the country, their history with the law. Every case. Our hope is that as more and more of these guidances come out that review will be done without having to go to the media, just because it’s the right thing to do, it’s good policy.”

“I want to make sure that we’re asking for discretion not just for our family but for the thousands of other families that deserve this discretion,” Angeles agree. “They deserve to have their cases reviewed, because they have kids, just like us. They’re suffering, just like us.”

[Luis’s family around his portrait. Left to right, Anthony, 16, Jennifer, 13, Sofia Angeles and Lucy, 2, godson Kenneth, 13, and Melody, 9. Photo by Tessa Cheek.]  

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About the Author

Tessa Cheek

She writes and makes photos about communities. Her book, Great Wall Style, a monograph-profile-lyric essay, is out from Images Publishing. tcheek@coloradoindependent.com | 720-440-2527 | @tessacheek

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