During this time last year, Reyna Montoya was one of the handful of undocumented students who were graduating from Arizona State University. Now, a year later, the 22-year-old Dreamer is fighting to stop the deportation of her father, Mario Montoya.
Mario was detained at an airport in Puerto Rico last September while attempting to come back from a business trip. Immigration officials detained him after he confessed he was not a U.S. citizen, and after it was revealed that he had a previous deportation order.
He spent eight months in a Puerto Rico jail before being transferred to Miami where he is currently detained. On Thursday, he could be deported to Mexico, a place he and his family left in 2000 to escape the threat of organized crime.
“This is such a bittersweet moment for me,” Montoya said Monday at a press conference in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix. “A year ago, I was graduating with honors from Arizona State University … and now I am standing here before you because my dad is detained in Miami and he faces the risk of getting deported.”
Montoya, an activist with United We Dream, said she hopes her father will receive prosecutorial discretion, which would allow him to stay and work in the United States for at least a year.
In June 2011, ICE Director John Morton outlined criteria for prosecutorial discretion in a memo that called on ICE officials to consider a range of factors to determine whether a person should be deported or not. Those factors include the amount of years a person has been in the U.S., the person’s criminal history and the person’s ties to the U.S.
Father facing deportation is an asset, not a threat to U.S.
Community leaders argued Monday that Mario meets a lot of the requirements outlined in Morton’s memo.
He is a father of three, including a 5-year-old daughter who was born in the U.S. He has also been in the country for than a decade, has a clean criminal record and coaches children in the National Youth Sports baseball league in Mesa, Arizona.
Arizona State Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) said Monday that Mario’s background demonstrates he is an asset, not a threat to this country.
“There’s a reason why we have prosecutorial discretion, and Mario perfectly fits that,” Gallego said. “Mario is a community member. He has no felonies. He has a family.”
Civil rights attorney Daniel Ortega suggested that what makes it difficult for ICE to release Montoya’s father is the fact that the Mexico native has a previous deportation order. Under Morton’s memo, a person who has a prior removal could be disqualified from receiving prosecutorial discretion.
Still, Ortega said he is hopeful that ICE will allow Montoya’s father to stay. But if deported, Ortega said there is a chance Montoya’s father could qualify to come back if Congress passes the bipartisan immigration reform bill. The recently introduced bill includes a provision that would allow certain undocumented immigrants who’ve been deported to come back.
“There is no assurance that we will see an immigration reform pass or that the House of Representatives will agree with that part of the bill,” said Ortega, who is the former board chair of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). “The most important thing to do now is to get him out of there so he’ll be free during his legal proceedings.”
Rosa Sandoval, Mario’s wife, said she too is hopeful that her husband will get to stay. On Monday, she had a message for her husband: “We are waiting for you at home. We really need you. We hope to see you come back so we can hug you.”