A Guatemalan immigrant living in Maryland is hoping media attention and public support can help him stave off deportation, at least for a little while.
Miguel Morales, 30, entered the country illegally six years ago and has been struggling to get legal ever since. In 2010, he was arrested by Maryland police for driving without a license, which put him on the radar of federal immigration officials.
In late February, he went public with his story; he testified before the Maryland legislature and was granted a six-month "stay of removal" by federal immigration officials the same day.
Morales asked for second reprieve in September, but found out his request was denied on Oct. 16, when he was taken into custody during his monthly check-in at a local immigration office in Baltimore, according to his lawyer, Arturo Viscarra. The decision to deny Morales' application for deportation relief is unappealable, Viscarra said.
Federal immigration authorities are holding Morales at an immigration detention center in Frederick County, Maryland. He could be deported within three weeks, his lawyer said.
Viscarra is circulating a petition calling for Morales to be released and pushing the story back into the media. The hope is that public scrutiny — once again — could persuade immigration officials to reconsider.
ICE required Morales to wear an ankle bracelet for three years, but removed the device in March. (Ted Hesson/Fusion)
Viscarra says he thinks the court of public opinion could sway immigration authorities "more than legal arguments." He said that ICE is "fairly immune" to negative press, but still has a "limit to how much of hit they want to take on one particular case."
Morales has few legal options left. Instead, he had placed his hopes in Congress passing an immigration reform bill that would give people like him a chance to live and work in the U.S. legally.
That hasn't panned out. Now President Obama is pressured to enact his own set of deportation-relief measures, a step his administration has vowed to take after the midterm elections next month.
Update, Oct. 27, 9:30 a.m.: ICE confirmed Morales remains in custody pending removal from the United States.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.