Monday, September 29, 2008

Here since age 10, man faces deportation to Mexico Irvington resident accidentally shot 4-year-old daughter (Alabama Press-Register)

Here since age 10, man faces deportation to Mexico Irvington resident accidentally shot 4-year-old daughter

Monday, September 29, 2008
Staff Reporter

Juan Carlos Martinez works a steady job in construction, has never been in trouble with the law and has lived in the U.S. since childhood.

But the simple fact remains that he entered from Mexico without permission, and now an accident with a gun could send him back.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators said they are sympathetic, both because Martinez, 30, has been here so long and because he nearly lost his daughter to a bullet in August as she slept in her bed.

"That's a humanitarian case when we make a decision what to do with that. ... It's a very tough case," said Dwight McDaniel, the assistant special agent in charge of the agency's Alabama operations.

Still, deportation remains a possibility.

To advocates of less restrictive immigration, the case reflects precisely what is wrong with U.S. policy.

"Our immigration system's pretty unforgiving," said Douglas Rivlin, a spokesman for the Washington-based Immigration Forum.

"I'm not sure why this guy getting kicked out of the country is good for us," Rivlin said. "It looks like we're getting tough on immigration. Really, we've created an underground and black market."

By some estimates, the U.S. is home to 12 million illegal or legally questionable immigrants.

Dan Kowalski, an immigration advocate who edits Bender's Immigration Bulletin, said he knows of no agency that keeps statistics on the number of people deported after having lived in the United States since childhood. But he said it's not infrequent.

"It happens all the time," he said. "I just know anecdotally from my colleagues around the country."

Martinez's status may never have come to light were it not for the bullet launched from his .22-caliber Beretta semiautomatic pistol early in the morning Aug. 26 at his trailer home in Irvington.

The bullet tore through the wall of the bathroom, where Martinez had the pistol, into the adjacent bedroom where his daughter, Stephanie Martinez, 4, was sleeping.

Rescue workers initially took the girl to the University of South Alabama Regional Medical Center. She spent several days at another hospital before being released.

Martinez initially told Mobile County sheriff's investigators that the girl found the pistol and accidentally shot herself. When confronted with evidence that showed otherwise, he admitted that he pulled the trigger by mistake, according to court records.

The Sheriff's Office later cleared him of any wrongdoing related to the accidental shooting.

McDaniel attributed Martinez's first explanation to panic. "He was very distraught, extremely distraught, and still is," McDaniel said.

Immigration investigators have no way to verify Martinez's claims that his family brought him to America when he was 10 but also have no reason to doubt him.

Martinez referred questions to his lawyer, Shane Taylor, who did not respond to messages left by the Press-Register.

Martinez may have a chance to remain in the United States if he can demonstrate to an immigration judge that he is of good character and that his deportation would result in "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to his daughter, who is an American citizen.

But Rivlin cautioned that Congress has made it much more difficult for illegal immigrants to remain. Martinez, he said, may have to go to Mexico and apply for permanent U.S. residency.

The residency process would be a long one. A Mexican mother of an American citizen who applied for a visa in September 2001 would be getting it right about now, Rivlin said.

"Unfortunately, it's not a quick process," McDaniel acknowledged.

No comments: