HOUSTON — Immigration officials began deportation proceedings this week against a Houston-area father of two who says he had lived for years in the U.S. under a protected status given to some immigrants.
Jose Escobar, a 31-year-old construction worker, was arrested Wednesday when he went to federal offices in Houston to provide immigration officials with an annual update on his work status.
His wife, Rose Marie Ascencio-Escobar, said although her husband is not a citizen, he was in good standing with immigration authorities as long as he appeared for an annual review. But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement counters that Escobar had been ordered years earlier to leave the country after getting his affairs in order.
Ascencio-Escobar said immigration agents told them the agents were complying with new rules enacted by President Donald Trump.
“But we haven’t done anything wrong,” the Houston Chronicle reported her as telling the agents. “He’s not a criminal. I thought you were focusing on criminals.”
The Trump administration announced Tuesday that any immigrant in the country illegally who is charged with or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or other minor offenses.
Jose Escobar was a 15-year-old from El Salvador when he was sent to join his mother in Texas, according to the Chronicle. Federal authorities at the time granted him temporary protection, which is provided to immigrants from El Salvador and other countries because they may not be able to safely return to their homes.
His mother mistakenly assumed his immigration permit would automatically renew and in the meantime the family moved so they didn’t receive the paperwork informing him that he had missed the deadline for renewal. A judge in 2006 ordered him removed, but his case didn’t appear to be a priority and Escobar continued to work and raise a family. He was detained by immigration agents again in 2011 but later released under the condition that he report to them once a year, according to Ascencio-Escobar.
The U.S. government is getting tougher on illegal immigration, starting with moves by the Department of Homeland Security to expand its criteria for prioritized deportation. Judy Woodruff speaks with Nancy Montoya of Arizona Public Media and USA TODAY’s Alan Gomez for more details about how it likely affects undocumented immigrants.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement Thursday that Escobar previously was ordered to leave the country.
“An immigration judge ordered Escobar removed from the United States in 2006, but instead of departing the country, he became an immigration fugitive,” according to the statement. “ICE re-arrested him in 2011, and he entered ICE custody. Mr. Escobar failed to comply with his removal order, and in January 2012, the Houston ICE field office director exercised prosecutorial discretion and released Mr. Escobar on an order of supervision so he could get his affairs in order prior to his removal to El Salvador.”
Lawyers in many places say they’re struggling with how to advise their clients on whether they should attend scheduled appointments with immigration agents or even show up to court.
“You have people who have no criminal history who have been complying with (ICE) check-ins and then once they go, they are getting scooped up,” Alyson Sincavage, a legislative associate at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Chronicle.