Thursday, September 8, 2011

Local immigrant won't be deported (Winston-Salem Journal)

Local immigrant won't be deported
By: BERTRAND M. GUTIERREZ | Winston-Salem Journal
Published: September 07, 2011

Federal authorities have opted not to initiate deportation proceedings against Yadkin County resident Martin Rodriguez and at least six other immigrants arrested during a rally in Charlotte this week, immigration attorneys and jail officials said Wednesday.

But Rodriguez, who is not authorized to be in the United States, remained in the Mecklenburg County Jail on Wednesday evening on misdemeanor charges related to the rally because he refused to sign paperwork for his own release, said jail officials, citing a note in Rodriguez's file from the magistrate.

It is unclear why Rodriguez refused to sign the paperwork. His sister, Silvia Rodriguez, 18, who heard about her brother's refusal from a reporter, guessed that he may have done it as a sign of solidarity with others who were arrested.

"Do you know if everyone is getting released? It could be that he doesn't want to come out until everyone comes out," she said.

Martin Rodriguez, 20, was one of 15 protesters arrested Tuesday after they and a crowd of about 300 protesters held a sit-in rally near Central Piedmont Community College. Most were initially charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and impeding traffic, police said.

If Rodriguez does not sign paperwork to get out of jail, he could stay there until his misdemeanor charges are heard in court. A court date was not available Wednesday afternoon on the jail website.

His immigration status and misdemeanor charges are separate matters because being in the U.S. without authorization is a civil offense, not a criminal offense, and it is handled by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ivan Ortiz-Delgado, an ICE spokesman, explained why the federal agency sometimes opts not to detain illegal immigrants.

"ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on those serious criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, not sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately," Ortiz-Delgado said in an email.

Following a directive written in a letter dated June 17 from ICE Director John Morton and publicly supported by President Barack Obama last month, the immigration agency has been exercising prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis.

Helen Parsonage, a Winston-Salem immigration attorney helping with some of the cases, said ICE's decision to forgo deportation proceedings against Rodriguez is a sign that the Morton letter is filtering through the agency.

"This is a huge sea change to me — to see undocumented migrants being arrested and not put in deportation proceedings is such a relief, especially after the last couple of years when people have been deported after being in a traffic stop," Parsonage said. "Finally, there seems to be some sanity and balance about who we deport and who we don't."

Rodriguez was a good student, is an active church member and had never gotten in trouble with the law, according to his priest and former teachers.

"He was a well-above-average student — almost had 100 average in the class I taught, which was an upper-level math class," said Stephen Brown, his teacher at Starmount High School in Boonville.

Principal Junior Luffman echoed that sentiment.

"He was never a problem in school. He didn't get in any trouble. He was very respectful and followed the rules," he said.

The Rev. Jose Enrique Gonzalez, who is the pastor at Divine Redeemer Parish in Boonville, said in Spanish that Rodriguez does a lot of work with the church's youth group.

"I hope he can fix his situation, and I hope I can see him back at church soon," Gonzalez said. "He is doing this not just for himself but for others who are also going through the same challenges."

The rally and subsequent arrests were aimed at raising awareness about immigrants such as Rodriguez, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a toddler and has grown up here. They want Congress to pass legislation known as the Dream Act, which would allow young, educated immigrants to correct their immigration status and go to college or join the military.

Ten of the 15 arrested are not authorized to be in the U.S., according to the N.C. Dream Team, the advocacy group that organized the rally.

Parsonage was helping with seven of the immigration cases. On Wednesday evening, it was still unclear whether ICE officials had opened deportation proceedings against the other three immigrants.

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