Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

In April, Manuel Antonio Cano Pacheco was forced by immigration authorities to leave the United States and return to Mexico—a country he hadn’t set foot in since he was three. Just weeks later, the Iowa teen was found dead, his throat slit by drug cartel murderers. He was, a friend told the Des Moines Register, simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Pacheco’s case is notable not only for its tragic outcome, but for the circumstances that lead to his departure from the only home he’s ever known.

After he’d been brought to the U.S. as a toddler, Pacheco found himself eligible to receive protection against deportation under President Barack Obama’s DACA initiative. Those protections, however, were rescinded in 2017 after the high schooler had been convicted of a series of minor offenses—all of them misdemeanors.

“Based on his criminal convictions, his DACA status was terminated making him amenable to deportation. After posting an immigration bond, he was released from ICE custody pending an immigration court hearing,” ICE officials said in a statement to the Register.

ICE went on to explain that, while waiting for his hearing, Pacheco committed two more misdemeanors. Facing deportation—which would have rendered him ineligible to return to the U.S.—he opted to voluntarily go to Mexico, a country he hardly knew, in the hopes of someday settling back in America.

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He never got the chance. Just weeks after ICE officials walked him across the U.S.-Mexico border in Laredo, TX, Pacheco was out to eat with a family friend, whom the Register reported knew the cartel-associated killers. Both were killed.

In its statement, ICE insisted that “once turned over [undocumented immigrants] are the responsibility of their own government.” In this case, the Mexican government failed dramatically to uphold that responsibility.

This is not the first time someone ousted from the U.S. has been killed upon their return to their native country. In September, 2017, Juan Coronilla-Guerrero was found dead on a roadside in the Mexican city of San Luis de la Paz. During his deportation proceedings, Coronilla-Guerrero’s wife had pled for the judge not to send her husband into the arms of the drug cartels from which he’d entered the U.S. to escape. To do so, she claimed, would be a murder sentence. She was right.

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For friends of Pacheco, the teenager’s death is no less tragic.

“I kind of don’t believe it still,” 20-year-old Juan Verduzco told the Register during a small memorial service on June 3 in Iowa. “It still hasn’t hit me... I don’t understand.”

Had he not been forced to leave the U.S., Pacheco would have graduated high school last month.