Scott Ball / Rivard Report
On Thursday, father and son were reunited after their worst fears were realized: the threat of deportation for a son who believed he was protected by DACA.
"They told me that DACA didn't matter, that I was going to get deported anyway and that under the Trump administration there are no second chances," 19-year-old Josué Romero told reporters over the phone Thursday, shortly after being released from two days in custody.
Romero, a Southwest School of Art student given temporary legal status by former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – a program that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children from deportation and grants them renewable two-year work permits – called his father, José Francisco Romero, at 2 a.m. Wednesday to tell him he had been arrested. County records indicate Josué Romero was arrested on charges of possessing a small amount of marijuana.
After being arrested, Romero was transferred to the Bexar County jail, he said, and was later handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. It was unclear why ICE became involved with Romero's case, but immigration enforcement has been stepped up across the nation under the Trump administration in recent weeks.
ICE released a statement saying it placed a detainer on Romero Thursday with the Bexar County Jail. "He was later transferred to ICE custody," the statement said. "[Romero] was issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge Dec. 3, 2004."
Univision interviewed Romero's parents late Wednesday night. On Thursday, Romero's father received another call from his son, this time to tell him he was being taken to the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, Texas.
"He told me they were going to deport him back to Honduras and they had a flight ready for him," José Romero told the Rivard Report in Spanish Thursday night. "In those moments, you don't feel hunger – you don't feel anything. We came to the U.S. in 2003, when Josué was 6 years old. He doesn't know Honduras or anyone there."
Josué Romero declined comment about the marijuana charge when questioned by the Rivard Report and said he was arrested for being at a city park after hours. He added that although he was released, he will have a meeting with ICE officers later this week. Romero said he did not know why he was released.
Before Romero's release, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) released a statement saying he made a formal request to ICE in Washington for Romero's immediate release.
"While its new policies may increasingly endanger millions of undocumented immigrants, the Trump Administration has not yet revoked DACA," Doggett stated. "ICE must not revoke DACA on a case-by-case basis. Josué is a student in good standing who is charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession. He poses no threat to our national security or public safety. The only threat posed is to Josué’s personal safety if ICE deports him to Honduras, a dangerous country which he has never known as home."
According to representatives at RAICES, a nonprofit that offers legal services to immigrants, "DACA should be a protection from this kind of treatment. They should not be detained or deported."
The County decides whether to hand individuals over to immigration officials or to process them on the arrest charges, RAICES Executive Director Jonathan Ryan, Romero's legal representative, told Univision.
"We do not know what specific mechanisms are in place with either the San Antonio Police Department or the Bexar County Sheriff's Department to facilitate their collusion with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but we do know that collusion is happening and it is aggressive," RAICES said in a statement Friday. "Situations like the one Josué is facing are the reason we need to keep ICE out of our city and county."
Romero is an alumnus of SAY Sí, a nonprofit after-school arts program. Teachers, friends, and educators there called him a talented young artist and model student. On Thursday, SAY Sí posted a Facebook statement calling for the arts community to stand together in support of Romero. Teachers said he has a scholarship that covers 75% of his tuition at the Southwest School of Art, a testament to his talent, leadership, and work ethic.
"Josué has been a valuable member of SAY Sí's community for about eight years," SAY Sí Communications Manager Stephen Guzman told the Rivard Report. "He was a mentor to many of our middle-school students, and he also mentored community members. He's a prime example of where you should be going. He's a hard worker, and he's one of the students that we always like to showcase."
SAY Sí Executive and Artistic Director Jon Hinojosa said that Romero's case is important since it puts a human face on the current national debate about immigration policy.
"A lot of people think it's easy to say, 'These people are illegal,' when they don’t know circumstances surrounding the issues," Hinojosa said. "The majority of immigrants, and especially in San Antonio, they are all working hard and trying to do the right thing.
Below, you can see footage of Josué reuniting with his father.
"Josué really puts a face to that," Hinojosa added. "What we will be losing in this country are valuable people who are making a difference, supporting their families, and building their community. It's much more than politics. These issues are going to continue to happen to young people and members of our community."
Thomas Hopkins, an artist and educator at Artpace, was Romero's instructor and mentor at SAY Sí from middle school through high school. He went to RAICES headquarters and waited late into the night to see Romero's reunion with his father.
"As an educator, as someone who thinks about the trajectory of so many young lives who have dreams and aspirations, this is deeply troubling and this has brought to me a closer perspective on this issue," Hopkins said. "I'm very upset and I'm very saddened."