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Pastor Max Villatoro Breaks Silence to Share Personal Account of Harrowing Deportation Proceedings

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Pastor Max’s Story Continues to Show Need for Reform at ICE and Accountability for Director Saldaña

In the wake of his tragic deportation, Pastor Max Villatoro, now in Honduras, is speaking out for the first time since he was detained, sharing his personal experience with the U.S. deportation machine and describing what it’s like to be on the other side of the border, separated from his family and home.

Speaking exclusively to Univisión, Pastor Max makes a personal plea to President Obama, saying (translated by America’s Voice):

“President Obama, I know that you have a heart, I know that you are a father, husband…How would you feel? Can you put yourself in my shoes for a moment? I’m not attacking you, I’m just saying if you can place your hand on consciousness, practice love…Do you really trust in God?”

On being separated from his family, Pastor Max explains that his primary concern at the moment is not for his safety, but that of his wife and four U.S. citizen children.  He says:

“They do not deserve to be brought here [Honduras] because they are from over there [the United States]. I’m going to continue to fight to return, but if they don’t want me over there, that’s fine, just as long as they are fine and they don’t get killed.”

Regarding the state of facilities used for immigrant detention, he adds:

“The last jail that I was in we were 200 people with four sinks, four bathrooms for 200 people…you don’t think that one can get an infection?”

Max’s experiences show the urgent need for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Saldana to step up and fix key problems within her agency.

Under new deportation guidelines for ICE agents, Pastor Max should not have been considered a high priority for removal.  The immigration enforcement policies outlined in a November 2014 memo from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Johnson discuss a balancing test for weighing deportation decisions, stating 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.

As Pastor Max’s attorney and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), David Leopold, explains, Pastor Max’s case has important implications for new ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña and the broader system of immigration enforcement.  Leopold writes in a new Latino Rebels piece, entitled, “Truth or Consequences for ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña”:

“For the immigrants across the nation, Pastor Max’s removal was a test case. Would Director Saldaña take a rigid, unforgiving view of the new deportation guidelines? Or would she understand that the guidelines leave plenty of room for common sense?

In the end it was clear Saldaña viewed the DHS enforcement guidelines as little more than a detention and deportation checklist to be robotically followed regardless of individual circumstances and regardless of the heavy toll Max’s deportation was taking on his family and community. Saldaña refused to recognize that far from requiring Max’s deportation, the DHS removal priorities unquestionably empowered ICE to grant Max a reprieve. Clearly no one —not even ICE— could seriously suggest Max posed any threat to national security, border security or public safety…

…In the aftermath of the devastation of yet another American family, immigration advocates are left with more questions than answers. Under ICE Director Saldaña’s leadership, are we to expect more chaotic, senseless immigration enforcement, with little regard for border security and the safety of American communities? Or will ICE Director Saldaña take a second look at Secretary Jeh Johnson’s enforcement priorities memorandum which, as President Obama promised, targets ‘felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a Mom [or Dad] who’s working hard to provide for her kids.’