Local student and DACA recipient Josué Romero, 19, breathed a sigh of relief Friday after he attended a scheduled check in with immigration officials and was told he was free to go.
The check-in comes after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials threatened to deport Romero, following a Feb. 14 arrest for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Although Romero was released suddenly while on his way to the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, Texas, he is still under an “order of supervision,” and said he will have to meet with officials again in June.
“For now, it gives me a certain feeling of comfort that I’ll be able to continue my life normally,” Romero said, after his check-in concluded. “Of course there’s a lot of work to do for those whose cases haven’t worked out. Things are only going to get worse. My case is a perfect example of what can be done when we all fight together.”
RAICES Executive Director Jonathan Ryan, who is Romero’s legal representative, told the Rivard Report that because Romero is a recipient of former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – a temporary legal status that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children from deportation and grants them renewable two-year work permits – he should have never been handed over to ICE officials.
Romero, who currently attends the Southwest School of Art, also is an alumnus of SAY Sí, a nonprofit after-school arts program. After learning of his detainment, teachers, friends, and educators rallied together calling for the community to stand in support of Romero, who they called a “talented, model student.” In addition, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) issued a formal request to ICE in Washington for Romero’s immediate release.
Romero believes it was this, and the overwhelming community support, which made ICE officials set him free.
“Josué is the first individual that we know of where a person with DACA status was handed over by his County directly to ICE officials for deportation and made it out [free],” Ryan said. “We know there are others who suffered the same fate and are still in detention. He can be the voice for all those suffering the same circumstances.
“It is not normal and unacceptable that he is being forced and compelled to comply with this order of supervision. We will fight in every legal capacity to have this order lifted.”
A small group of supporters and RAICES representatives accompanied Romero for his check-in Friday, for fear that he would be re-detained. According to Ryan, for an individual to lose DACA status in terms of criminal issues, they must have three misdemeanors, a felony, or what is called a “significant misdemeanor,” such as driving while intoxicated or circumstances that involve a threat to others.
“Why they’ve got him on any kind of restraint is perplexing because we don’t know of any DACA recipients who are under orders of supervision as he is,” Ryan told the Rivard Report, adding that Romero must notify officials if he plans leave the state for any reason.”There’s no threat to his DACA status at the moment and he is undergoing renewal.
“More than having to check in and report regularly to officials, this is a continuation of fear and intimidation and sending a message that he is not free,” Ryan added. “This is a psychological war that immigration is playing against our community. We are going to fight against this order of supervision because my client should not be under any order.”
Receive updates on the local impact of coronavirus in your inbox every morning.
Ryan said that ICE officials have yet to explain why Romero was put on an ICE hold at the Bexar County jail.
“I could look up on the magistrates office who is in there and why – that information of who is in there and why is public,” Ryan said. “What is different is that ICE has the doors wide open to walk right in and take anyone out. There’s no requirement under any law that people who have paid a bail and have finished their work with the County must be retained for any longer period of time, in fact it is contrary to our constitution.”
Ryan said that Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar has the power to stop complying with ICE holds. RAICES is currently asking local residents to participate in a petition, which demands that Salazar refuse to participate in the federal “Secure Communities” enforcement program.
“Our County is surrendering its authority to the federal government and our children to an immigration machine that wants to deport them back to the most dangerous countries in our hemisphere,” Ryan said. “Once you set a precedent and it continues, it gets worse.”
Recent executive orders from the Trump administration and additional memos calling for a crackdown on immigration enforcement have reverberated concern in communities across the nation, with some immigrants going into hiding and fearing capture on any corner.
Ryan admits that “bombastic words” in these orders have caused confusion due to lack of clarity when it comes to what is legal and what is not. This is what Ryan thinks is the most dangerous part, as the writing is very unclear and unspecific about what changes have been made to current immigration policies.
“What we know is that this lack of clarity is making individual officers feel that they have an authority and an impunity to do whatever they want and that’s what we saw in this case and in others,” Ryan said. “That is something that we cannot accept in our city and our community.”
When asked about the reasons for his arrest, Romero did not confirm nor deny the charges. His advice to other DACA students is to stay calm and focus on school.
“Be as safe as possible, fight for your dreams, and focus on school – this is why we have DACA,” he said. “Don’t do anything that would put you directly at risk, because they do want to get you for anything at all.”
Romero said he was living in fear before he was detained, but now, after being released and living through the threat of deportation, he has found courage and pledges to be a voice for others in similar situations.
“I want to speak on behalf of those that can’t and who don’t have the voice that I have – even those who don’t have DACA and are living in fear with everything that’s happening,” Romero said in Spanish. “If we just sit down and watch everything that’s happening, they will keep deporting families that are doing nothing wrong and who are just here for a safer future and to have opportunities.”
Romero plans to attend a “No Ban, No Wall” rally on Saturday at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, where thousands are expected to attend. In addition, he will be traveling to Miami next week to attend a national forum about immigration rights hosted by Univision.
“My father and mother don’t have what I have [DACA] so they are still in danger,” Romero said. “I have more confidence now to fight and do something for my community.”