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Trump Is Deporting Regular People, Not Bad People

Consider the case of Catalino Guerrero. By the time he received a summons to appear on February 8 at the Newark offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he had been living in the United States for twenty-five years. Originally from the Mexican state of Puebla, Guerrero, now fifty-nine, has been continuously employed in this country since 1992, mainly as a dispatcher at warehouses near his home in Union City, New Jersey. Throughout that time, except for one brief suspension, he has held valid federal work permits. He has a legitimate Social Security number and has paid taxes by paycheck deductions.

Over time his wife and four children came from Mexico to join him, and he has five grandchildren, all American citizens. Guerrero is the mild-spoken patriarch of a clan that has gravitated around a modest duplex row house, which he purchased with a bank mortgage in 2004. A churchgoing Catholic, Guerrero fortified the spiritual protections around his family by keeping an altar in the corner of his cramped living room with the Virgin of Guadalupe, Our Lord of Chalma, and several more figures revered by Mexicans.

Guerrero has no police record. His problem is that his work permits were issued based on an application for political asylum that a notario, an accountant not qualified to practice law, had filed, he says, without telling him—a common immigration scam in the 1990s. It took until 2010 for the asylum claim, for which he was never eligible, to fail definitively in immigration court. One day not long thereafter he received a notice that a judge had ordered him to be deported. Stricken with worry, he had a stroke, its effects soon compounded by acute episodes of diabetes.

Three times during the Obama administration, agents from ICE came for Guerrero and told him to get ready to leave for Mexico. But local advocates rallied to defend him and found lawyers to petition to have his deportation stayed. As happened with increasing frequency during Obama’s last years, officials considered his clean record, his consistent employment, his tax payments, his community ties, and his medical condition, and they decided to suspend the deportation, placing him under an order of supervision that required him to stay out of trouble and check in with ICE once a year.

But after Trump made it a point in his campaign to vilify Mexicans as rapists and traffickers, Guerrero knew the February meeting with ICE would be different. Indeed, he was accused, erroneously, of failing to show up for his check-ins. He was ordered to report again on March 10, ready to be detained. Among several dozen people who stood in a downpour of sleet outside the ICE offices that day to protest Guerrero’s threatened deportation were Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. Guerrero, who had difficulty walking on his own but was steadied by his children, asked for another stay. He was granted no relief and told to report again in May. The debilitating uncertainty continues, not only for him but for two of his children, who have no legal status, and for their families.

Other cases also seemed at odds with Kelly’s claim that the administration is targeting “the worst of the worst.” Roberto Beristain, the forty-three-year-old Mexican owner of a busy steakhouse in Granger, Indiana, had no criminal history but had long been in the country illegally and in 2000 was ordered by an immigration court to leave. In February, with no warning, ICE canceled his long-standing order of supervision and he was rushed into deportation. His stunned wife, Helen, an American citizen, admitted that she had voted for Trump, based on his pledge to deport “bad hombres.” Instead, she protested to the South Bend Tribune, “it’s regular people” Trump is deporting.

(—Julia Preston, New York Review of Books)

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