After being arrested four years ago and subjected to a deportation process, Mexican immigrant Jose G. Herrera became a defender of the rights of the undocumented and on Monday celebrated having obtained U.S. permanent residence.
Immigration Judge Robert Vinikoor granted residence to Herrera on Nov. 1 for his good moral character and because of the extreme difficulties his U.S.-born son would face if his father were deported.
"Here goes one who has been freed, but there are still millions," Herrera told Efe.
The 29-year-old activist and single father expressed his gratitude for this victory to a wide-ranging network of sympathizers and for the letters of support from several influential people who helped with his case, including the rector of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago where Herrera is pursuing a degree in sociology.
It all began in the summer of 2008 when police stopped him and charged him with driving without a license and under the influence of alcohol.
The judge set bail at $2,500, but when his sister Erica went to pay it at Cook County Jail, she was told that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had placed a detainer on Jose.
Herrera spent 21 days in jail, and when released on three years' probation for the charges and agreeing to join an Alcoholics Anonymous group, report every month to a police officer and undergo periodic urine tests, Herrera got another big surprise.
One day later ICE agents detained him and sent him to their offices in downtown Chicago.
They released him the same day but with an electronic shackle on one ankle.
"And so I spent 11 months wearing that shackle," he said.
Since his arrest, Herrera has become an activist and has helped get dozens of immigrants released from detention centers.
Then, together with the Rev. Jose Landaverde, he organized opposition to the construction of a detention center for immigrants in the Chicago suburb of Crete.
Herrera now has only one wish aside from taking his degree, and that is to continue aiding immigrants.
"My wish is to see all those millions of immigrants with their cases resolved, and not necessarily in the courts but because of comprehensive immigration reform," he said. EFE