Waco Tribune-Herald by Regina Dennis
2 Central Texas teens face deportation after arrests for nonviolent incidents
A local grass-roots group is rallying to protest the pending deportations of two Central Texas high school students who organizers say qualify for an exemption to remain in the United States.
Luis Ortiz, 19, a senior at Waco High School, and Daniel Perez, 19, a senior at Coolidge Junior/Senior High School in Limestone County, are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents when they were children.
Both are facing deportation to Mexico, even though their status as high school students and lack of a serious criminal background would allow them to remain in the U.S. under Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidelines.
Perez and a group of friends were arrested in July 2010 for a fight with another friend. Perez was a bystander during the incident and was not charged.
Ortiz was arrested in November 2010 for drag racing along Interstate 35 and pleaded guilty to a Class B misdemeanor.
Both cases were the teens' first arrests, but the incidents put them on ICE's radar for deportation, their attorney said.
A San Antonio immigration judge Thursday set a Dec. 10, 2012 hearing for Perez to make his case for having the deportation proceedings dismissed. Ortiz has a hearing set Jun 27.
The Waco DREAM Act Alliance, which supports creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, is holding a screening today of the documentary "Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth," to raise awareness for the two teens' cases.
Ortiz, Perez and their families will attend the screening and publicly come forward about their struggle.
The group also will gather signatures for a petition to the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the immigration agency, asking that the students' deportation be deferred. An online outreach effort also is being planned.
"We're hoping to creat more of a human connection between the local community, and eventually the national community, and these students ... and have people understand that they're in very difficult situation that, under the administration's guidelines, they should not be under, said Jose Magana, Baylor law student and president of the alliance.
Susan Nelson, a Waco immigration attorney representing both students, said an order issued last year by ICE director John Morton grants immigration prosecutors discretion to dismiss or defer deportation proceedings against undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. when they were children, are enrolled in school and do not have a criminal record.
Nelson said even though Perez never was charged with a crime, her initial request and subsequent appeal to have his case dismissed have been denied by the chief porsecutor handling the case in San Antonio. Nelson said she has not been given a reason for the denial.
Nelson said she also thinks that Ortiz's case should be dismissed under the guidelines since it was a Class B misdemeanor. Nelson is awaiting a decision in her appeal for Ortiz.
"What's supposed to be happening in San Antonio is that as cases come up for hearing with immigration judges, they're supposed to be screening and dismissing those that are not high priorities, and they're not doing that," Nelson said. "They're sending out form letters saying: 'We've considered it. No.'"
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Magana said it is disapppointing that while the Obama administration has taken a stance to reform and slow down deportations of undocumented student, the changes are not being carried out.
"There are certain cases across the nation where they are doing the opposite of what they are stating publicly," Magana said.
Nelson has three other cases involving local college students who she thinks should not be facing deportation under the guidelines.
ICE also began deportation proceedings for both teens' fathers because they were minors when their cases began.
Perez's father, Jose, can apply for a cancellation of removal because two of his five children were born in the U.S. But Ortiz's father, Raul, faces the same uphill battle as his son to stay in Waco.
"These are the cases that I lose a lot of sleep over," Nelson said, referring to both Perez and Ortiz. "There are a lot of cases that I defend where I think, 'This is going to be bad for their families,' but these two boys in particular, it really hurts my heart."
Orti said the thought of returning to a country he has no real connection to is frightening. He has lived in the U.S. since he was 4 years old, and he hardly knows any of the distant family members living in his birthplace of Benito Juarez in Mexico's Federal District.
He said his family always has been fearful of rumors that ICE would conduct random roundups to detain undocumented immigrants, but he had tried to stay out of trouble to avoid the threat of deportation.
"It's been difficult, and it's scary," said Ortiz, an only child. "I haven't been in Mexico in more than 15 years. Almost all of my life I've been here. I don't know anything about Mexico."
Ortiz has been looking forward to graduating June 1 and beginning his studies in automotive mechanics at Texas State Technical College this fall. More than anything, he just wants a chance to establish a career working with cars and building a stable future for himself.
"I feel frustrated, because I'd like to have more time (here)," Ortiz said.
Perez said he is anxious about the deportation process, noting that he has never been in trouble befor. Of the fight that led to his arrest, Perez said he and some friends were hanging out, and playful banter and horseplay escalated when one friend complained he had been hit too hard.
Perez, a bystander in the incident, said he was arrested after that student's parents called the police. No charges were filed, bue he remained in jail for six weeks on an immigration hold as ICE began deporation proceedings.
Perez, who came to the U.S. at age 5, also wants to study automotive mechanics and is hoping to attend Navarro College.
He is not very optimistic about what opportunities would be available if he had to return to Guanajuato where he was born. He also has never visited Mexico befor, and he has yet to meet some of his relatives still living there.
"I feel like it's better if I stay here," Perez said. "If I go back over there, I'm going to have more problems.
"(My parents) wanted to do what they could for us to stay here. It's better over here in the United States, for us to go to school and try to get a better education."