AZ Pastor to Report for Deportation

Editor
By Editor July 20, 2017 09:34

AZ Pastor to Report for Deportation

AZ Pastor to Report for Deportation

, The Republic | azcentral.com

Hours after The Arizona Republic published an article about immigration officials holding off on deporting a Guatemalan pastor until his asylum case is reviewed, officials abruptly reversed course on Wednesday, his lawyer said.

Antonio Velasquez, a well-known leader in the Phoenix area’s Guatemalan community, has been told to report at 9 a.m. Thursday to the Phoenix office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ‘s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, where immigration officials will likely take him into custody for deportation, said Delia Salvatierra, his lawyer.

Salvatierra said immigration officials cited the azcentral.com article and other media reports for their decision to suddenly go back to their original plan to remove him quickly rather than allow him to pursue a request for asylum to remain in the U.S.

Velasquez said he fears he will be killed by drug cartels if sent back to Guatemala.

Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe, an ICE spokeswoman, said in an written statement, “ICE is unable to comment at this time.”

Velasquez was originally ordered by ICE to report on Wednesday, with the understanding that he would be taken into custody and held in detention until he could be deported back to Guatemala.

But on Tuesday, immigration officials notified Salvatierra through an email that Velasquez did not need to report and that ICE would not be removing him, giving him time for one last shot at asylum, and allowing him to remain home with his family while the case proceeded through immigration courts.

ICE’s decision not to immediately seek Velasquez’s removal seemed like a moment of compassion in the face of a growing avalanche of news stories about immigrant families being ripped apart under President Donald Trump’s crack down on illegal immigration.

Velasquez and his Guatemalan wife have three young children, all of whom were born in the U.S., making them citizens of this country. He has lived in the U.S. since 1990 and has no criminal record. He is pastor of a Christian evangelical church and the founder and president of Maya Chapin de Guatemala en Arizona. The group advocates for Guatemalan immigrants and organizes youth soccer leagues aimed at preventing Central American and Latino teens from getting involved in drugs and gangs.

“He has a wonderful program,” Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski said. “He works with the Phoenix Police Department, with our office. It’s those individuals that shouldn’t be deported because they give back to the community tenfold. It’s the criminals who should be deported — the ones who are breaking the laws, selling drugs, doing the wrong stuff.”

Nowakowski noted that earlier this year Velasquez organized a group of soccer players from his leagues to canvass the Maryvale neighborhood to help Phoenix police distribute fliers with a sketch of the “Serial Street Shooter” who killed nine people in random shootings.

Velasquez, who came to the U.S. while fleeing persecution as a student during the Guatemalan civil war, was given a final order of removal by an immigration judge in 2010, after he lost an asylum claim, and was turned over to ICE for deportation proceedings.

Despite the final order of removal, ICE had allowed Velasquez to remain in the U.S. because he was not considered a deportation priority under former President Barack Obama’s administration because of his clean record and deep community ties, Salvatierra said earlier.

But that changed after President Donald Trump took office and issued new deportation policies. The get-tough policies have prompted ICE to begin going after immigrants with final orders of removal who previously had been allowed to remain in the U.S. under supervision, Salvatierra said.

As a result, ICE notified Velasquez in May that the agency was moving forward to deport him and ordered him to report on June 19, when he was fitted with a GPS ankle-monitoring device.

In a motion his lawyer filed with immigration courts Tuesday seeking to reopen his case, Salvatierra argues that Velasquez deserves the right to file a new request for asylum because conditions in Guatemala have changed and he fears he will be killed if sent back.

Through his work with Maya Chapin, Velasquez, along with his father back in Guatemala, helped resolve a territorial dispute between Tajumulco and Ixchiguan, two municipalities in the state of San Marcos, where Velasquez is from.

During the dispute, the government declared a state of emergency, which led to the discovery of large poppy fields grown by locals to sell to the Sinaloa Cartel for the production of heroin. After the discovery, the Guatemalan military destroyed the fields.

“The Tajumulco/Ixchiguan people and the Sinaloa Cartel believes that Mr. Velasquez, and his political organization, Maya Chapin de Guatemala en Arizona, are to blame for the destruction of their fields,” the motion said.

As a result, Velasquez has received death threats, according to the motion. Earlier this month, armed men threatened his father in Guatemala by firing weapons outside his house, the motion said.

Source:AZCentral

Editor
By Editor July 20, 2017 09:34

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