As It Happens

How this Yale student accidentally turned her dad in to immigration services

Melecio Morales was arrested by immigration agents at what was supposed to be his final interview before being granted legal permanent residency in the U.S.
Melecio Andazola Morales with his eldest daughter Viviana Andazola Marquez at her graduation from York International School in Thornton in Denver, Colo, in 2014. She is now a senior at Yale University and her father is facing deportation to Mexico. (Submitted by Viviana Marquez)

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When Viviana Andazola Marquez drove her father to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Centennial, Colo., earlier this month, she thought he'd be leaving with his green card.

The Oct. 12 meeting was supposed to be Melecio Andazola Morales' last official interview before being approved for permanent residency in the U.S.

"He was really excited," Marquez, a senior at Yale University, told As It Happens host Carol off. "You know, making plans for the future, assuming that he was going to have his green card."

Instead, he was arrested by three Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and placed in a detainment centre, from which he faces deportation to Mexico.

"He's a little bit anxious, has been having trouble sleeping, but is hopeful that he'll get out soon and wants to be with his family soon," Marquez said.

She's written about the experience in a New York Times opinion piece called "I Accidentally Turned My Dad In to Immigration Services."

Morales, a father of four, is the sole breadwinner for his family. He's been living, working and paying taxes in the U.S. since 1998 and has no criminal record, Marquez said.

While Marquez and her siblings are U.S. citizens, she said her father's undocumented status has always loomed over her family. 

She remembers being little and driving to the mall with her parents and grandmother. In the parking lot, her parents noticed there were ICE officials in the mall and started whispering about "la migra." 

"They just explained, 'Well, we can't go in with you, but you can go in with your grandma,'" Marquez said. "That's kind of when I realized that there was difference between me and my parents and how we were living in the U.S."

Morales, centre, is the sole breadwinner for his family. (Submitted by Viviana Andazola Marquez)

As soon as she turned 21, Marquez petitioned the government to change her father's immigration status — a process he began himself in 2001. 

Two weeks ago, they arrived at what they believed to be the last leg of the long journey.

"I went in with the full understanding that my dad was going to walk out of there with a green card, but when we arrived, things were a little bit suspicious," Marquez said.

The immigration official didn't want her in the room during the interview. She relented, but after the interview was over, the official again asked Marquez to step outside.

"I left the room kind of confused, but also was like, 'Oh, you know, maybe I'm just being paranoid,'" she said. "And then, about 20 minutes later, the lawyer came out and informed me that three ICE officials had detained my dad."

There's just no way that I could have anticipated that us trying to do right by the law and trying to change his status would result in this outcome.- Viviana Andazola Marquez 

ICE confirmed the arrest in a statement to the Denver Post.

"Mr. Andazola was previously deported from the United States in March 1997," ICE spokesman Gregory Palmore said.

"His previous removal order has been reinstated, and he remains in ICE custody pending his removal from the United States."

Hans Meyer, Morales' new immigration attorney, told the Post she is petitioning authorities to grant him a stay and reopen his case.

The arrest comes amid a crackdown on undocumented immigrants in the U.S. under President Donald Trump.

Earlier this year, U.S. immigration officials arrested a woman in an El Paso, Texas, courthouse moments after she was granted a restraining order against an abusive partner.

In February, ICE arrested a Seattle man who was working legally in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and deported an Arizona mother who had been checking in regularly with immigration authorities for eight years.

"I'd seen some news reports about ICE deploying these sort of tactics, but I was like, there's just no way. My dad did everything right. He has no record. There's just like no way they can detain him," Marquez said.

"There's just no way that I could have anticipated that us trying to do right by the law and trying to change his status would result in this outcome."