Last week, Viviana Andazola Marquez, a 21-year-old Yale University student accompanied her father to a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency branch in Colorado for a scheduled appointment to get his green card. What happened next, she recounted in a phone interview with ThinkProgress, was a series of confusing events and unsettling claims that led federal immigration agents to detain her dad.
On October 12, Viviana accompanied her dad Melecio Andazola Morales and his lawyer to the USCIS office in Denver for an adjustment of status interview to become a U.S. permanent resident. Initially, the interview with the USCIS agent seemed fine. As expected in all adjustment of status interviews, the officer verified his documents and asked him questions. By the end of the interview, the agent made it seem like she would recommend Viviana’s dad’s green card application for approval. But then the agent asked Viviana to leave the room.
“The agent told me my dad had been recommended for approval, but that she just had one more thing to review and asked me to leave the room,” Viviana said. “I thought, ‘huh that’s weird,’ but left the room. About 15 to 20 minutes later, the lawyer and interpreter came out and told me that three ICE agents had come in to detain my dad and that they hadn’t been allowed to explain any of his rights.”
“Once the ICE agents apprehended my dad, they forcibly pushed out my dad’s lawyer and interpreter.”
“It was a complete shock,” Viviana said. “She didn’t give me a reason. I looked at my lawyer and I was confused… Once the ICE agents apprehended my dad, they forcibly pushed out my dad’s lawyer and interpreter. [ICE agents] shoved them and closed the door on them.”
An ICE spokesperson told ThinkProgress in an emailed response that the agency had reinstated Andazola Morales’s previous removal order and that he will remain in detention “pending his removal from the United States.”
“Depending on the alien’s criminal history, an alien who illegally reenters the United States, after having been previously removed, has committed a felony punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison,” the ICE spokesperson added.
Hans Meyer, an immigration attorney based in Denver who represents Melecio, said the ICE agency detained the father of four U.S. citizens due to an order of exclusion he received when he tried to enter the southern U.S. border in 1997. Orders of exclusion — which deny entry to foreign nationals — are no longer the legal term used, but more or less function like a deportation order. Melecio came back in 1998 without inspection and has lived in the country since then. Earlier this year, Viviana, a U.S. citizen, was able to petition for his green card. The process was going smoothly until last week. Now, he might be at risk of deportation because of the old order.
“We had gone in thinking we were going to leave the building with my dad’s green card.”
“We had gone in thinking we were going to leave the building with my dad’s green card,” Viviana said. “I left not knowing what was going to happen to my dad.”
Melecio’s detention could kick off a chain of events that will change the course of Viviana’s life. As the oldest of four kids, she has been thinking of her family’s long-term future if her dad is deported. Viviana has one more semester to go at Yale, where she is studying to become an immigration lawyer one day. If her dad is detained for much longer or if he faces deportation, Viviana said she will need to drop out of school and start a job immediately to financially support her three younger siblings. She has scholarships, a financial incentive that may not be guaranteed in the future if she drops out now.
At the moment, Viviana is only thinking about getting immigration authorities to reopen her dad’s immigration case. She’s sent out online petitions. She’s also turned to the media to help amplify his case, describing Melecio, as her family’s primary breadwinner who worked on various construction projects during the housing boom in Denver. He also worked on the Denver Coliseum and the Denver Airport. In response, Viviana has received a swell of support from immigrant advocates nationwide. Activists at Yale and the greater New Haven area have held a few rallies and vigils in support of her father. Student groups at 14 other colleges also shared messages of solidarity, the Yale Daily News reported. A GoFund me page set up to help support the family has raised more than $67,500 as of Wednesday, still short of its $85,000 goal.
Perhaps what’s most revealing about Melecio’s detention at a USCIS office — a place where he almost resolved his immigration issue before ICE agents sucked him back into legal status hell — is that it’s become an uniquely unsurprising event under the Trump administration. In March, ICE agents entered a USCIS office in Massachusetts to detain five immigrants seeking legal residency. In May, ICE agents made an arrest at a USCIS office in Ohio to detain a Honduran immigrant who was there for his green card marriage interview with his U.S. citizen wife.
Short of declaring open season on undocumented immigrants, the President Donald Trump has authorized a number of executive orders that make life difficult for immigrants. He has urged local law enforcement officials to collaborate with federal immigration agents or face punishment by withholding federal funds from cities. Trump has put an end to work authorization and deportation relief for many other non-criminal immigrants including undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children and those who had been displaced by bad situations in their home countries. Former Department of Homeland Security John Kelly signed a memorandum in February stating that no undocumented immigrants are free from the possibility of deportation. Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan previously said that that undocumented immigrants “should be afraid” and ICE agents have separately received explicit approval to go after undocumented immigrants.
“He thought he was doing everything he was supposed to do,” Viviana said. “He doesn’t understand why something like this would happen to him. He’s pretty upset. He just wants to be with his family.”