A member of the House of Representatives with a history of supporting tough immigration policies recently saved a Guatemalan man from being deported.
Representative Duncan Hunter serves California’s 50th district, which includes San Diego’s East County, parts of Temecula and Escondido. Also included in his district is a town called Fallbrook, Calif., which is between Temecula and Escondido.
Rep. Hunter has been a pretty strong proponent of increasing border security through the Unlawful Border Entry Prevention Act, a bill he authored that allows for 350 miles of “additional reinforced fencing” along the southwestern border, according to his website. He also supported appropriation bills from the Department of Homeland Security to fund 34,000 detention beds and 21,186 Customs and Border Patrol agents, and signed a letter to save the funding for the 287g program, which allows for local and state officers to join in partnerships with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain undocumented immigrants. Rep. Hunter also supports the deportation of U.S. born children with undocumented immigrant parents.
Yet, in late July, Rep. Hunter’s office intervened in the deportation of Mario Figueroa of Fallbrook, Calif.
According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Figueroa, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, was scheduled for deportation last week. Figueroa came to the U.S. when he was a child. His family was seeking asylum since they faced severe violence in Guatemala. The San Diego Union-Tribune also reported that Figueroa’s parents had been deported years ago. Figueroa says that he was stopped while riding in a friend’s car and was immediately asked about his immigration status.
“Elijah [the driver] and I believe it was racial profiling. First thing they asked was ‘are you guys citizens.’ Nothing else,” Figueroa tells mitú. “I got randomly stopped and detained by border patrol and as I was at the Murrieta Station [now known as the Theodore L. Newton, Jr. and George F. Azrak Station] they ran my prints and said I was a fugitive of ICE for supposedly skipping out on a judge or court.”
Figueroa, a 22-year-old husband and father of a young child, was in detention for ten days before he was released and spared the fate of deportation with the assistance of Rep. Hunter’s office. It’s unclear how Rep. Hunter became aware of the case, or why he stepped in to help Figueroa specifically.
Before being detained, Figueroa had applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and his application was pending. DACA is a program implemented by President Obama that allows for people brought to the U.S. as young children to receive work permits and are relegated to low-priority deportations.
“Whenever there’s a valid reason and opportunity to intervene or to accelerate a petition on behalf of constituents or families needing help, Rep. Hunter is always willing to do the legwork and make a case to officials,” Joe Kasper, Rep. Hunter’s spokesperson, told The San Diego Union-Tribune about the decision. “And that’s what happened in this instance. There was both reason and opportunity and we’re glad a decision was made.”
Mitú reached out to Rep. Hunter and his spokesperson for clarification about what compelled them to stop Figueroa’s deportation, but they did not respond. As reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune, Carlos Paz Martinez, a 25-year-old father of a young child with a pending application for DACA, was deported last month, which is the same situation as Figueroa. Paz Martinez is from El Cajon, which is partially represented by Rep. Hunter. There are no reports of Rep. Hunter attempting to aid Paz Martinez.
Figueroa says that he was unaware of Rep. Hunter’s involvement in getting him released until after he was free. He expressed gratitude for Rep. Hunter’s office stepping in to prevent his deportation.
“It feels good knowing there are people like him willing to help people like me who believed we were alone,” says Figueroa.
He believes that high ranking officials need to work to repair the nation’s immigration system. Figueroa also thinks that other people in his situation should see his story as proof that you can avoid deportation if you speak up.
“To the people who are in my situation or could be in the situation, I just want to say to them that they aren’t alone and they should speak out because you never know who can be listening,” Figueroa says. “I thought I was alone and look what happened. I got help from friends, family and even a congressman.”