Monday, August 29, 2011

Despite policy, Friendswood teacher deported (Houston Chronicle)

Despite policy, Friendswood teacher deported
Updated 12:45 a.m., Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sha' Vonne Ironche's husband called her Tuesday afternoon from inside the Houston immigration detention center, saying an officer told him to have a bag packed and ready by 5 p.m. for his deportation flight back to Spain.

She blacked out. The other teachers at her Houston-area school had to call her mother to come and pick her up.

Just days earlier, she and her husband, Esterny Ironche, a 55-year-old Spanish teacher, had high hopes he would be spared from deportation. Obama administration officials last week announced a case-by-case review of pending immigration cases, saying they planned to dismiss "low-priority" cases involving non-criminals to better target dangerous criminals.

Esterny Ironche had no criminal history, and he was married to a U.S. citizen. He had overstayed a visa 15 years ago, but had paid his taxes and had legal work authorization from the government. He had a case pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals. And he was in remission for prostate cancer and participating in a clinical trial in Houston.

All of those factors, the lives that had carefully constructed together here, would surely count in his favor, they figured.

But the government did not spare Ironche, who was loaded onto a flight from Houston to Dallas with the suitcase his wife had packed for him. He arrived in Madrid early Thursday.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Friday that they could not comment on Ironche's deportation, citing the agency's privacy policy. A DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the agency has not yet started the national case reviews. The agency is still operating as it did before the Aug. 18 announcement, the official said, and will continue to do so until the government establishes a formal case review process.

Wife is a citizen

"It's a tragedy," said Raed Gonzalez, a Houston immigration attorney. "There are many promises from the administration, but nothing is really coming about."

"It's really sad that they're still separating families," he said.

Sha' Vonne Ironche spent the day on Friday filling out paperwork officially resigning her husband's position with the school district and trying to figure out what to do with the new home they recently bought together in Friendswood.

She was trying to be strong for her 5-year-old daughter, Ironche's stepdaughter, who kept asking for "Papa."

She has a contract with her school district, and no immediate plans to pack up and move to Madrid. But, the 32-year-old said, she feels lost without Ironche, and will eventually find her way there to be with him, if that's what it takes.

"I feel out of place, and I belong here," she said. "I don't feel this is my home and my country. I cannot believe this."

Ironche had entered the U.S. legally and overstayed his visa, applying for a green card in 1995 based on an earlier marriage. Sha' Vonne Ironche said her husband's application languished for years and was denied after his divorce. But he was not notified, she said, and the government continued to renew his work authorization year after year.

They taught at the same school and fell in love three years ago. He was a doting father to her daughter, Carmen, from an earlier marriage, she said.

The couple planned to have a big wedding in October 2009, she said, but Ironche was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late August of that year. They decided to move the wedding up and exchanged vows in a quiet ceremony in the minister's backyard in September 2009, three days before he had surgery to remove his prostate.

Still in shock

But when the couple applied in 2010 for a green card based on his recent marriage, immigration officials grilled them about the hasty wedding, she said. They said Ironche had an immigration warrant dating to 2007. His green card application was denied. On Aug. 5, immigration officials detained him. His lawyer requested that the government consider exercising prosecutorial discretion and dismissing his case, but they declined.

Sha'Vonne Ironche said she can't understand why the government went ahead with the deportation, especially after the announcement that gave them hope.

"When the president says we don't need to deport people who don't have criminal records, you should acknowledge it," she said.

Sha'Vonne Ironche said she's still in shock, but is starting to think about the future, trying to figure out how to get her family back together. That most likely will someday result in her leaving her home here in Texas and moving to Madrid.

"I have no choice," she said. "That's where my husband is."

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