Last week United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement honcho John Morton announced a series of "improvements" meant to keep ICE's focus on deporting aliens with serious criminal records.
In spite of these highly touted policy changes, ICE today deported a Phoenix high school cross-country coach who had done a lot of good for the local community and had little more than an old DUI on his record.
Miguel Aparicio, 37, was removed from the country after turning himself in at Phoenix's ICE office downtown. He was originally arrested in 2009 for a minor traffic violation, and had fought his case since then.
"We presented all those arguments from [Morton's memo on the ICE policy changes] in my motion to reopen," said Jose Penalosa, Aparicio's lawyer. "But...law enforcement [has a different opinion] than I do as an advocate."
The coach was set to leave the country voluntarily on Friday, but his lawyer moved for a stay of deportation in the wake of Morton's announcement.
"Because of the change of circumstances of this policy memorandum [Aparicio] decided to stay here and put his [best] foot forward, and perhaps be the first case here in Arizona, and nationwide, where [Morton's new policies] would be considered," Penalosa explained.
If Aparcio's judge had accepted the motion, he would have remained in ICE custody, where he could have continued to contest his removal.
However, once Aparicio is in Mexico, his case is basically closed.
"The chances of reopening the case are very minimal," admitted Penalosa.
Many of Aparicio's former cross-country students were at the ICE office to show their support.
Heberto Chavez, 18, was devastated by ICE's decision to deport his ex-coach. Chavez is a South Mountain High School student, one of the schools where Aparicio had done volunteer coaching.
"I had high hopes that he could stay," Chavez said. "He's a great person that shouldn't have to leave the country."
Even though Morton's new guidelines regarding removals should have helped Aparicio's case, it seems Morton's announcement was little more than an empty PR stunt meant to revamp ICE's image.
Or perhaps local ICE officials didn't receive their boss's memo on time, Penalosa offered.
"Since it just came out on Friday, [maybe] it hasn't made its way down to the chain of command," he explained. "But I made it known in my [motion]. So if I know, they should know."
Aparicio spoke to New Times before he was deported, and said he had no idea what he would do if returned to the country of his birth.
"I don't believe he made any specific plans," stated Penalosa.
Penalosa said once Aparicio is in Mexico, he might "communicate with friends and family here to send him money to get to where he needs to go."
Aparicio's grandmother, who is a legal permanent U.S. resident, also resides in Phoenix. His lawyer says she might have to move to Los Angeles to live with a granddaughter of hers.
This evening, Aparicio is on a bus on his way to Nogales, Mexico with only $30 in his pocket. His lawyer speculates that the popular track coach might go to Mexico City, a place he hasn't seen since he was 15-years-old, hoping to find a relative there.
Until ICE actually follows Morton's recent "changes," or President Obama steps up on immigration reform, people with cases similar to Aparicio's will keep getting booted from the U.S..
"We need to express our disappointment," said Carmen Cornejo, a pro-immigrant activist who started an Internet campaign to stop Aparicio's deportation. "Unfortunately [Aparicio] is getting deported today, but we need to let [ICE officials] know we're watching them."
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