Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) on Wednesday accompanied a Mexican in South Carolina who is facing deportation for a traffic violation to ensure that immigration authorities comply with new policy guidelines calling for "discretion" in such cases.
Gutierrez returned for the second time in less than two weeks to Charleston to accompany 27-year-old Gabino Sanchez - who was arrested for speeding, running a red light and driving without a license - to his first appointment with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The lawmaker was also interested in presenting to ICE two other cases of Hispanic South Carolina residents who are fighting to avoid deportation after their own arrests for traffic violations.
This is the first time that Gutierrez has participated in this kind of hearing to verify that the authorities are adhering to the guidelines established in ICE Director John Morton's June memorandum that give priority to the deportation of criminals or people who represent a threat to national security.
"Cases like this put to the test the seriousness of the Obama administration to use deportation for violent criminals and not to separate families. This shows that the federal law takes precedence over state law," Gutierrez told Efe as he was accompanied by about 30 people carrying signs calling for an end to deportations.
Sanchez, who arrived in the United States at age 13, has two U.S.-born children and is the breadwinner for his family, will have to appear at an immigration court hearing on March 13.
"Our office will present the arguments for canceling Sanchez's deportation, but here the point is that people should learn to use this tool which is not achieved automatically," Gutierrez said.
According to the congressman, ICE officials told him that there are 1,200 immigrants in South Carolina who remain on the streets despite pending deportation orders.
Sanchez said the presence of the congressman gave him "hope" for his situation and now he is hoping that everything will be resolved and he will not have to return to Mexico.
"My arrest was an act of racism. The Ridgeland police did it in the driveway of my home. They told me right away that they were going to take me to jail, but I told people that they should not stay quiet and (should) fight," Sanchez told Efe.
For Erick Esquivel, the president of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, Sanchez's case is an example of what has been happening for the past 3 1/2 years in the coastal town of Ridgeland, where Hispanics are the "target" of police.
"Since then, we've said that the enforcement agencies are concentrating on Latinos, installing checkpoints in their neighborhoods, churches and arresting them for minor traffic infractions to open a file on them and deport them," Esquivel told Efe.