Basalt woman fights on two fronts to stay in U.S.
Supporters of a Basalt woman who faces deportation to Mexico after living in the Roaring Fork Valley for 21 years have a two-pronged strategy to try to keep her in the U.S.
Attorney Ted Hess has filed a request for a “stay of removal” for Norma Galindo Gonzales, 39, who was arrested by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers at her Basalt home May 1. The stay request will be ruled on by John Longshore, field office director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Centennial, Colo., Hess said in a teleconference with reporters Thursday. It is unknown when a decision will be made, he said.
Meanwhile, friends and family of Galindo Gonzales as well as advocacy groups are scrambling to make members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation and the Obama administration aware of her situation. The goal is to get state and federal officials to intervene on her behalf, said Edgar Niebla, a member of the board of directors of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and leader of Association of Youth United in Action.
He said the staffs of Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Rep. Jared Polis have been contacted. A letter writing campaign will also be directed to Janet Napolitano, secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The action against Galindo Gonzales shows that some of ICE’s policies are “ridiculous” for targeting people who have made exemplary residents of the U.S., Niebla claimed. She is a hard-working mother of two who has learned English and become an active member of the Basalt community, Niebla and Hess said in separate comments during the teleconference.
“How is deporting her going to help our country?” Niebla asked.
A deportation order was issued against Galindo Gonzales in 2005 and upheld on appeal in 2008.
“It started with a mistake by Norma,” Hess acknowledged.
After living in the U.S. for 14 years, Galindo Gonzales “borrowed” another woman’s birth certificate and attempted to obtain a state ID card at the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles office in Glenwood Springs, according to Hess. She was caught, arrested and convicted of a misdemeanor – unlawful possession of personal identification information, her attorney said. She was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation.
But the criminal action, however minor, brought her to the attention of ICE. The agency investigated her legal status and ordered her out of the country. Galindo Gonzales didn’t leave. Both her sons – Hector Morales Jr., 18, a senior at Basalt High School, and Oswaldo, 12, in the sixth grade – were born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley and are U.S. citizens. Their father and her husband, Hector Morales Sr., is also in the country legally.
The case has drawn extra attention because Hector Jr. has been accepted by Duke University to study engineering. He earned a prestigious scholarship that covers his costs.
The enforcement action against Galindo Gonzales came out of the blue. “I have no idea why there was a delay between 2008 and 2012,” Hess said.
The stay-of-removal request filed by Hess contends that ICE should have used its discretion and not enforced the deportation against his client. The deportation system is overloaded, Hess said, and isn’t working efficiently so the federal government prioritized who to target for deportation. He said “dangerous criminals, drug dealers and terrorists” are targeted by the 2011 policy. “Norma clearly doesn’t fit in those categories,” he said.
“We think this is a great case for ICE to exercise its option,” Hess added.
ICE won’t comment on the case, but the agency previously released a statement that said Galindo Gonzales was considered an immigration fugitive until her arrest. She was “afforded due process” and is subject to the deportation order pending the review of the stay request.
“ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, recent border crossers, and egregious immigration law violators, such as those who have been previously removed from the United States or those with outstanding deportation orders,” the statement continued. “The agency exercises prosecutorial discretion, on a case by case basis, as necessary to focus resources on these priorities.”
An agency representative declined to respond directly to Hess’ contention that Galindo Gonzales shouldn’t have been targeted this month given the terms of the 2011 prosecutorial discretion policy. However, the agency spokesman pointed out that page 5 of the prosecutorial discretion describes the agency’s priorities for prosecution. The fourth of four priorities for prosecution is “individuals with an egregious record of immigration violations, including those with a record of illegal re-entry and those who have engaged in immigration fraud.”
Hector Morales Jr. didn’t wade into the legal issues of the case during Thursday’s teleconference. He simply said he misses his mom. She currently is being held in an ICE detention facility in Aurora, Colo.
“It is very important for me for her to be there when I go off to college this fall,” Morales said. “I don’t want to leave my family in this situation.”
He graduates from Basalt High School June 2 and hopes his mom can attend. If she is deported to Mexico, he will be forced to reassess his future plans, he said. His dad works hard to support the family. His mom wouldn’t be there to provide the guidance to his younger brother like she provided to Hector, he said.
“If she gets deported, there’s a possibility I might not go to North Carolina,” Morales said.
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