OUTSIDE ATLANTA, GA -- Jesus Cruz found a small bit of relief last month when an immigration judge in Atlanta granted the undocumented graduate of Mableton’s Pebblebrook High another two months in the United States. “I don’t want to go to Mexico because this is my home,” Cruz told Patch in May.
Cruz is facing deportation because Cobb County Police arrested him in August 2011 for driving without a license, which he cannot obtain in Georgia as an undocumented resident.
Judge Madeline Garcia granted Cruz his second two-month extension on his deportation hearing to see if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will exercise prosecutorial discretion, which is the agency’s authority to decide how to pursue individual cases.
Cruz’s fate hangs between two agencies. Cruz’s attorney, Julio Moreno, and his supporters hope ICE will use this authority to dismiss charges against Cruz and to allow him to stay in the U.S. on a work permit.
When the US and the Local Office Move in Separate Directions
Cruz and many other undocumented DREAM Act-eligible young people facing deportation are seeking refuge in “the Morton Memo,” a June 2011 directive. The memo suggested that ICE officials consider DREAM Act-eligible youth—non-criminal illegal immigrants who graduated from U.S. high schools and arrived in the United States as minors—a low priority when prosecuting or deporting aliens.
“If we were in a different city, this case probably would have already been closed.”
The memo followed intense criticism from many Latino groups displeased with the increase in deportations in 2010 (In 2010, the Obama administration deported 393,000 people, with an overall record far exceeding those deported during George W. Bush's presidency.) President Barack Obama said in October 2011 that deportation cases would be heard on a case-by-case basis and that non-criminal or "low-priority" undocumented residents would be eligible for permanent residency and work permits.
Meanwhile, the state of Georgia cracked down on illegal immigration when it passed an immigration enforcement law last year. Effective July 1, 2011, the law, HB 87, grants police the right to demand immigration documentation from suspects to determine whether they are undocumented. It also creates stricter punishments for people who employ, harbor or transport undocumented people—and trouble for young people such as Cruz.
Cruz is counting on supporters who have written letters on his behalf to federal officials like Morton and to Director of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Moreno said the local ICE office declined his request to allow Cruz to stay. No specific reasons for the declined request were given, Moreno told Patch.
“The local field office in Atlanta is not following that order (of the Morton Memo),” Moreno said. “If we were in a different city, this case probably would have already been closed.”
Cruz’s next and final deportation hearing will be held July 16. If ICE does not step in on Cruz’s behalf, the judge could issue a removal order. Cruz would have 30 days to appeal the order, and the appeal process could take several months unless the judge issues a final removal order, Moreno says.
At that point, the local ICE office would decide whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion and possibly allow Cruz to stay in the U.S. for a limited period of time under an “order of supervision,” similar to a work permit.
“Hopefully, the DREAM Act is approved at some point next year and we can try to reopen the case somehow and get Jesus to stay here legally, which is his goal,” Moreno said.
Weeks of Waiting
After his August 2011 arrest for driving without a license, Cruz was transferred to Stewart Detention Center, placed under an ICE hold and released when his family posted his $7,500 bond. He has lived in the United States since he was 12, when his mother brought him here from Mexico.
Cruz now lives in Mableton, Georgia with his sister. His mother lives in L.A. He wants to remain in the U.S. and go to college to eventually become an immigration attorney.
Supporters of Cruz gathered at Pebblebrook in May to hold a vigil and bring awareness to his case.
“I have now turned to my community and am counting on their support to be able to stay,” Cruz stated in a release from the Dream Activist Network of Georgia.
If he is deported to Mexico, Cruz said, “I’m going back to a place I don’t even know.”
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.