If you view reality through the prism of partisanship, you might believe that President Obama is using his executive authority to relax restrictions on immigration and show leniency to people who have illegally crossed the border in search of better lives.
If you lean Republican you probably believe that the president has flouted the Constitution and opened the border to allow people to cross freely at peril to American, jobs and public services. If you’re sympathetic to the Democratic line, you may believe that the president has demonstrated leniency and fairness, while allowing the nation to tap into the talents of a corps of future citizens. But rarely does reality in any way resemble Republican or Democratic talking points.
Announcing his executive action on immigration last November, Obama outlined a new set of priorities for deportations. “Felons, not families,” he said. “Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”
Oscar Quinteros, a 24-year-old who fled gang violence in El Salvador to join his family in the Greensboro area, had reason to feel confident about his prospects when he reported to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in Charlotte. He had no criminal record in any country. When he was caught by the border patrol in early 2012, he immediately declared his fear of being killed by gang members if he returned to his native country, and he fully cooperated with immigration authorities.
An immigration judge had turned down his request for asylum, which is granted to refugees who have suffered persecution or fear that they will because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or espousing political opinions. Quinteros’ immigration lawyers in Greensboro tried to make the case that their client was a member of “particular social group,” that being “witnesses of crime who were cooperating with the police, and their families,” but the judge wasn’t swayed. The lawyers had appealed the decision.
When Quinteros reported to ICE in Charlotte on April 21, his birthday, an officer put him in handcuffs, informing him that he had a deportation order on him.
“Why are you putting handcuffs on him? He’s not a criminal,” Nelson Guzman, Quinteros’ cousin, protested.
“He told me to shut up or he would arrest me, too,” Guzman recalled. “He said President Obama had changed the law in November.”
The rationale was outlined in a Department of Homeland Security memorandum issued in tandem with the president’s November 2014 executive action stating that immigration enforcement should be focused on national-security threats, serious criminals and recent border-crossers.
The way Ann Marie Dooley, one of Quinteros’ lawyers, sees it, her client’s status as a recent arrival should place him far down the list compared to people who are national-security threats or serious criminals.
[pullquote]If you want to appeal Oscar Quinteros’ deportation, call 888.351.4024 or email [email protected] Any messages must include Quinteros’ “alien number,” which is 205-165-676. Callers will also be asked to provide his date of birth (April 21, 1991) and country of birth (El Salvador).[/pullquote]“They absolutely have the ability to exercise prosecutorial discretion,” she said. “If there was ever a case that called for it, this would be it.”
Quinteros’s story, dramatized in a short film shown during a vigil at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro on Sunday evening, should move any person of religious faith who cultivates compassion — or who believes in law and order, for that matter.
In November 2011, Oscar’s brother, Hector, witnessed his friend Noe being killed by members of the MS-13 gang, one of the most violent and notorious in the world. Hector returned home and told Oscar what he had seen. He was upset because the gang members had warned him that if he told anyone they would kill his whole family. Although the police in El Salvador have a reputation for collusion with MS-13, Hector willingly went to the station so the police could interrogate him about the murder, his brother said. Then, the day before he was scheduled to testify, MS-13 members kidnapped Hector at a soccer game and killed him by slashing his face with a machete. A week later, Oscar received a phone call from an anonymous person whom he could only assume was a gang member warning him that he should leave the country or he could expect the same fate.
Knowing that the police are corrupt and no one can guarantee your safety, it’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t take the same course of actions as Oscar Quinteros. But for coming to this country without authorization he is now sitting in Stewart Detention in Georgia waiting to be deported to El Salvador.
During the vigil, Orfilia Reyes urged Oscar Quinteros’ family to not give up. She knows from personal experience that the authorities can be swayed. A Guatemalan immigrant who has lived in this country for 24 years, Orfilia faced deportation in 2012. Her 15-year-old son, Fredi, a US citizen, would have faced the choice of staying behind without his mother or moving to a country he know nothing about. Orfilia’s older son, Fredd, also successfully fought deportation. The phone calls made the difference.
“For the dreamers that stopped the deportation of my son, many people said that was impossible,” Orfilia Reyes said, “but for God nothing is impossible.”