Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Perkasie dad faces deportation (PhillyBurbs.com)

Perkasie dad faces deportation
Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 5:55 am
By Theresa Hegel Staff Writer

Three-year-old Noah Orellana-Garcia hasn’t seen his father for three months, not since an early July morning tore his family apart.

Miguel Orellana-Garcia, 24, of Perkasie, was getting ready to leave for his job at the Richlandtown feed mill where he’s worked for the past four years.

He stepped out the front door and was apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who had been waiting nearby, said Jessica Winkler, 25, Orellana-Garcia’s fiancee.

“They threw Miguel on the floor right in front of Noah,” said Winkler, a U.S. citizen. “We were in shock. We didn’t know what was going on.”

As far as the couple knew, Orellana-Garcia was in the country legally, under temporary protected status, having come to the United States with his family from hurricane-ravaged, war-torn El Salvador when he was 9.

Since that day in July, Orellana-Garcia has been sitting in York County Prison, awaiting a deportation hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Orellana-Garcia’s abrupt change in status from legal to illegal stems from a handful of misdemeanor arrests and a court letter that never reached its intended destination.

Orellana-Garcia received a DUI charge for underage drinking in 2006 and was twice arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana, in 2007 and 2009. He served no jail time, receiving instead 30 days’ probation for each of the drug charges.

But because of those infractions, the government revoked Orellana-Garcia’s temporary protected status, said Dave Bennion, Orellana-Garcia’s lawyer. Any two misdemeanors, even for something as minor as shoplifting, could trigger the change in status, he added.

“He had these run-ins, it’s not uncommon for people of that age,” Bennion said of his client. “It was certainly a mistake, but he’s been trying to get things on track. ... I think that the consequences of those actions are disproportionate. It wouldn’t stand in the criminal system, but in the immigration system, it’s pretty much anything goes.”

Orellana-Garcia’s status was revoked in 2007, but the notice of his court hearing for immigration proceedings wasn’t sent out until 2010, to an old address, Bennion said.

Because Orellana-Garcia never received the letter, he missed his court date and was ordered deported by a Philadelphia judge, he said.

Representatives from ICE’s local Office of Chief Counsel, prosecuting Orellana-Garcia’s deportation hearing, declined to comment on the case, saying it was against the office’s policies.

Harold Ort, an ICE spokesman, would say only: “(Orellana-Garcia) was ordered removed by an immigration judge in absentia in May 2010. He was subsequently arrested by ICE officers in July 2011 as a fugitive alien. However, in August 2011 an immigration judge granted a motion to reopen the case.”

Orellana-Garcia’s example is common under the “unforgiving and inhumane” immigration system in the U.S., said Douglas Massey, an immigration expert and professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University.

“This guy is just the latest face in a bureaucratic system that’s doing this to hundreds of thousands of people every year,” Massey said. “Congress has made it very difficult to be an immigrant in the U.S. today.”

A 1996 law made immigrants — even permanent residents — subject to deportation if ever convicted of a crime, whether the crime was the result of changes in immigration law or something minor done by a youth who has since turned his or her life around, he added.

The government has “streamlined” the deportation process, allowing record numbers of immigrants to be detained, often in secret and without a trial, Massey said.

In the last fiscal year, ICE deported nearly 400,000 people, the largest number in the agency’s history, according to John Morton, director of the agency.

Among the 396,906 people deported, more than 1,000 were convicted of homicide. An additional 5,800 were sexual offenders, and about 80,000 had been convicted of drug-related crimes or driving under the influence.

“This comes down to focusing our resources as best we can on our priorities,” Morton said. “We continue to hope for comprehensive immigration reform at a national level, working with the Congress, but in the meantime, we work with the resources we have, under the laws we have.”

The agency has three priority areas: the identification and removal of criminals and national security threats, fugitives, and recent border entrants and others who game the system, according to its website. The agency said focusing on these areas has had a profound positive effect on public safety.

About 55 percent of the people deported in the last fiscal year had felony or misdemeanor convictions. The number of deported aliens convicted of crimes is up 89 percent from 2008, according to agency officials.

Because of his drug arrests and underage DUI, Orellana-Garcia falls under one of ICE’s high priorities for deportation.

In a way, Orellana-Garcia was lucky his fiancee witnessed his apprehension and was able to secure a lawyer before being rushed out of the country, Massey said.

But Orellana-Garcia’s family isn’t feeling so lucky.

Winkler, five-and-a-half months pregnant with their second child, had to move out of their Perkasie home, squeezing into Orellana-Garcia’s mother’s place in Allentown. She had to get a full-time factory job in Pennsburg, leaving Noah with her mother in Milford during the day.

Before Orellana-Garcia was detained, Winkler was a full-time mom, while Orellana-Garcia worked 53-hour weeks to support his growing family.

Despite the long workweeks, Orellana-Garcia still found time to take his young son to the park or other outings, Winkler said.

“It’s a handful, trying to take care of a 3-year-old, being pregnant, working and having the stress of not knowing what’s going to happen to Miguel on top of that,” she said.

The stress has affected Noah as well. The once calm and collected young boy now acts out, constantly telling his mother he’s mad.

He hoards snapshots of his father, telling Winkler, “I need these pictures so I don’t forget my daddy.”

Though they talk on the phone daily, Winkler has only been to see Orellana-Garcia once in the last three months because the long drive to York for a half-hour visit is too depressing to bear. Noah hasn’t been to visit at all because Orellana-Garcia doesn’t want his son to see him behind glass in a prison, Winkler said.

If Orellana-Garcia is deported, moving with him to El Salvador is not an option for Winkler and Noah, especially since she also has a 9-year-old son with another father.

Orellana-Garcia has spent the majority of his life in the U.S. and barely remembers his time in El Salvador. His family — mother, father, siblings, grandfather — has been living in America legally for years. His three younger siblings are citizens who were born in this country.

Orellana-Garcia never embarked on the path to citizenship because under temporary protected status, it’s very difficult to get a green card, according to Bennion. While Orellana-Garcia had TPS, he would have had to leave the U.S., triggering multiple bars to re-entry, before applying for permanent residency, he added. This would have been true, even if he had married Winkler while his TPS was active, Bennion said.

Though Orellana-Garcia still speaks Spanish — in addition to English — he would stick out as a foreigner were he to go back to the country of his birth, Bennion said.

“He would be an obvious target for kidnapping,” he said. “(Gangs) would assume he had family in the U.S. who could pay ransom.”

On those grounds, Bennion plans to apply for asylum for Orellana-Garcia, though he’s not optimistic about the chances for success. He’s hoping to get Orellana released from detention to give him the chance to prepare and fight his case in court.

“It’s not a huge request,” Bennion said.

Winkler is hoping the judge on Thursday will look beyond Orellana-Garcia’s criminal record to see the family man he is now.

“(The judge) sees this little part of Miguel’s life,” Winkler said. “He doesn’t know who Miguel is. He doesn’t see him at work, or at home with his family.”

And Noah is just hoping to see his father again.

“I want daddy to come home because I miss him,” Noah said.

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