SALINAS, CA (The Mercury News) – A young Salinas man who earned temporary legalization under a program promoted during the Obama administration is awaiting deportation in a Northern California detention center.
He’s one of only a handful of “dreamers” — what students are called who gained temporary residency through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — to have been detained for possible deportation nationwide since Donald Trump became president.
Juan Manuel Martinez, 19, had pleaded no contest to trespassing in March, and his attorney, Miguel Hernandez, said Martinez was expected to go home from the Monterey County Jail after a judge sentenced him to time served. Instead, his family was told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had placed a hold on him.
“I went to the jail that evening to visit another client. I ran into my client’s mother, she said they’re not going to release him,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez knew that his client had received temporary protection status under DACA, a program signed by President Barack Obama that gave temporary documented status to an estimated 800,000 young people. He had no other previous record, and his attempts to convince jail staff went nowhere.
ICE “picked him up and transported him to immigration court,” Hernandez said.
Although Martinez was originally charged with possession of marijuana and meth, he ended up just pleading to a minor charge of trespassing, which should not have warranted immigration detention, his attorneys said.
John Mineau, chief deputy for corrections with Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, said Martinez was flagged by ICE as soon as he was arrested for having a gang affiliation and possessing drugs on jail grounds. Martinez had driven a friend to jail, where he was caught with marijuana and meth in his car.
“We don’t have a 5-mile perimeter so we patrol around to prevent people from introducing” drugs into the jail, he said. “We take that stuff very seriously.”
Mineau said ICE makes the assessment as to who should be picked up.
But Martinez’s referral to immigration officials shows that the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office is cooperating with federal authorities when it comes to detention of immigrants, Mexican Consul Blanca Zarazua said.
“It does not add up to the sheriff’s representation,” Zarazua said. “Publicly he’s said he’s not cooperating with ICE unless serious crimes are involved, and this is not serious. It’s not going to help calm the fears of many DACA students once they find out about this case.”
Sheriff’s Cmdr. John Thornburg said Thursday afternoon he was researching the case.
Sheriff Steve Bernal has said his department is not cooperating with ICE but that the federal agency has a desk in the jail to pick up undocumented immigrants when they’ve been convicted of a crime. The Trump administration has vowed to crack down on immigrants living illegally in the United States, but officials have said they’ll concentrate on serious criminals first.
But the definition of what could be considered “serious” has become a moving target under this administration, local attorneys have said during immigration town hall meetings.
For Martinez’s attorneys, the case also underscores the risks “dreamers” are facing under this administration. Trump vowed to end DACA when he became president, although last week he told the Associated Press that dreamers “should rest easy” as his administration is not going to come after them.
Immigration attorney Blanca Zarazua said her client was told he was being deported for being a gang member and because his DACA had expired. But neither is true, she said.
“He has tattoos, none of which have gang meaning,” she said. “He has the names of his mother, his grandmother, a rosary and a virgin. We have a gang expert, a retired Salinas police officer whose conclusion is he’s not a gang member.”
Martinez has a bond hearing on Tuesday.