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Iowa Pastor Max Villatoro a Test Case for ICE Director Saldana, New Immigration Enforcement Policies

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Will the Administration Apply the Balancing Test, or Separate Max from His Life and Family?  

The following is the latest update about Pastor Max Villatoro, who was detained last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Yesterday, ICE denied Pastor Max’s request for a stay of removal, despite the unprecedented public outcry and support for his case.  Max’s attorneys filed a request for reconsideration.  In the evening, ICE moved Max to yet another detention facility in Louisiana, the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena.  The reason for Max’s transfer is unclear, and he faces significant risk of imminent deportation to Honduras.  Attorneys have yet to receive an official response to their request for reconsideration of the stay.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice: “Pastor Max’s case has gained national attention because it is a clear test for the Obama Administration.  Will Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents follow the new immigration policies outlined in a November 2014 memo from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, or will they insist upon deporting Max?  Pastor Max does not pose a threat to ‘national security, border security, or public safety,’ and should be granted a reprieve under the 2014 memo.  Will President Obama, DHS Secretary Johnson, and new ICE Director Sarah Saldana ensure that lower-level officials apply this balancing test, or allow local offices to ignore key parts of the memo?”

During his recent immigration-focused town hall event in Miami, President Obama highlighted that ICE agents refusing to follow the stated guidelines on enforcement would face “consequences,” noting:

“There are going to be some jurisdictions and there may be individual ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officials or Border Control agents not paying attention to our new directives. But they’re going to be answerable to the head of Homeland Security, because he’s been very clear about what our priorities will be…If somebody’s working for ICE…and they don’t follow the policy, there’s going to be consequences to it.”

Tramonte continued: “If Pastor Max is deported, the only ‘consequences’ will be for Max and his family.”

Max’s deportation to Honduras would break up another American family and risk the mental health and well-being of four American children.  It also puts Max’s own life at risk.  He would be returned to a country that has the highest murder rate in the world—a country Max himself has not seen in two decades.

Some ICE officers seem to see the November 2014 memo as a checklist for deportation, ignoring the balancing test that requires them to weigh both positive and negative factors when making deportation decisions.  The memo states that officials should “exercise discretion based on individual circumstances,” and consider whether the individual presents a threat to “national security, border security, or public safety“ before carrying out a deportation.

Tramonte asked: “If a pastor with four U.S. citizen children, who has been living peacefully without incident for 16 years, does not merit a reprieve under this memo, then who could?  ICE Director Saldana must step in and tell her field how to implement this memo, before it’s too late for Max.”

The local Iowa community is ramping up the pressure once again and speaking out on behalf of Pastor Max and his family.  Today at 4:30 PM at the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall (starting outside the Iowa City Public Library), youth community leaders and faith, labor, and community allies will host a “March with Max’s Family,” where they will speak out against the separation of families. Today’s event follows a relentlessnationwide mobilization against Pastor Max’s arrest, an effort that included videos sent to President Obama asking him to keep Pastor Max’s family together (see here).  Pastor Max’s wife, Gloria, also made an emotional plea to President Obama in her own video, which also features their four U.S. citizen children.  These videos follow apetition drive that’s driven over 42,000 messages of support to ICE.