Feds Release First Undocumented Immigrants in Georgia
Federal authorities on Tuesday night began freeing illegal immigrants facing deportation from Georgia, releasing two teenagers from custody by using controversial new guidelines the Obama administration announced last week.
Homeland Security Department officials confirmed that Pedro Morales, 19, of Dalton and Luis “Ricky” Hernandez, 18, of Calhoun had been let out of the Stewart Detention Center in South Georgia and their cases dismissed.
By freeing illegal immigrants, critics say, the Obama administration is ignoring federal immigration laws. They also contend the government has not done enough to stem the flow of illegal immigrants to Georgia.
However, proponents of the new policy said it made sense for the government to focus its limited resources on killers, rapists and terrorists. They were hoping this would lead to the eventual passage of the Dream Act. That measure — which failed in Congress last year — would give illegal immigrants a path to legal status if they came here as children, graduated from high school and attended college or served in the military.
Charles Kuck, the teens’ attorney, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropped efforts on Friday to deport Morales and Hernandez to Mexico after he argued they met some of the criteria in the guidelines: Both were brought to Georgia as young children, educated here and had not committed crimes other than being in the country illegally. Each was arrested last summer during traffic stops in Whitfield County, Kuck said.
Issuing a statement Tuesday night, Homeland Security said 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 U.S. The agency exercises prosecutorial discretion, on a case-by-case basis, as necessary to focus resources on these priorities.”
The Obama administration announced the new federal guidelines last week, saying the government had limited resources for deporting and detaining illegal immigrants and must focus on expelling violent criminals and those who pose threats to national security.
The government is preparing to review about 300,000 cases before the immigration courts nationwide to see if they should continue or be dismissed, an action that has strong opposition.
“They are illegal immigrants and they need to be returned to their country like the law states,” said Lori Pesta, president of the Republican Women of Cherokee County. “This is a nation of laws. … And the laws are there for a reason — so we don’t live in chaos.”
Kuck, the past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said ICE’s decision to free his clients indicates “there is a return of some semblance of sanity to our [immigration] system.”
The families for Hernandez and Morales cheered the news of the teens’ release. Hernandez’ sister said relatives were traveling to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin to pick up her brother.
“It’s wonderful news,” said Lisbeth Hernandez, 21. “The only thing we want to do right now is hug him.”
Hernandez said her parents illegally brought her brother into the country from Mexico when he was 2. He was arrested on June 17 after police pulled over a car he was riding in and questioned him about his immigration status, she said. Hernandez was charged with possession of marijuana but that charge was dropped, Kuck said.
Before his arrest, Hernandez was ready to start his senior year at Gordon Central High School, where he competed on the varsity wrestling and soccer teams, his sister said.
Morales was preparing to study mechanics at Georgia Northwestern Technical College before he was arrested on June 19. He was illegally brought into the United States from Mexico when he was 7, according to Kuck’s law firm.
“I am glad because I had two months without my son, believing that he was going to be deported,” Morales’ father, Pedro, said. “That was so hard for me.”
Mario Guevara of Mundo Hispanico contributed to this article. Mundo Hispanico, like the AJC, is part of Cox Media Group.