DACA recipients held at Falfurrias checkpoint

McALLEN — Amid confusion over a new immigration policy, several DACA recipients were detained at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias on Monday despite ambiguous assurances from President Donald Trump about having “nothing to worry about.”

This now leads to questions about the federal program’s immediate future and how recipients commonly referred to as dreamers may be affected.

Elba Rocha, an Alamo-based immigration attorney, said the DACA recipients were detained at the Falfurrias checkpoint while on their way to Corpus Christi.

Rod Kise, spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Public Affairs, said Monday evening that Border Patrol agents were reviewing and verifying the documents of nine individuals who “claimed to be enrolled in DACA” before being released. The hour of their release remained unclear as of press time.

“ The individuals were then released to proceed with their journey, consistent with established policies and procedures,” Kise said in a statement.

Rocha said she received a phone call at about 10:30 a.m. Monday from the family of a male recipient who has yet to be identified, informing them that he was among those detained at the checkpoint.

The man in question, whose family insisted to Rocha that he had no criminal history, was released at about 4 p.m. after having been held since 8:30 a.m. earlier that morning — this despite members of the detainees’ families, who waited outside the checkpoint on Monday, being instructed at about noon that they would be released within the hour.

“ An officer came out a little while ago and said this is going to take a really long time, and at some point they would be contacted (for detainees) to be picked, up either back there at the checkpoint or at a detention center,” Rocha said of their accounts. “I don’t understand why they would be sent to a detention center at all.”

Her client, who has yet to be identified, was reportedly “shaken up” by the ordeal and planned to meet with her later that afternoon.

A seemingly new policy with regard to immigration inspection for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which authorities with the U.S. Border Patrol cited in response to media inquiries, proved to be a source of confusion for those unaware of the measure.

When a DACA recipient presents themselves for immigration inspection, they will temporarily be detained for accuracy and verification of status. Once substantiated, the DACA recipient will be processed and released accordingly,” Robert Rodriguez, a spokesman with U.S. Border Patrol said.

Acknowledging that she and other attorneys were largely unaware of this process, Rocha said the detainment may still prompt additional fear in recipients already apprehensive over their status in the country, now that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the federal program would come to an end in six months.

…I think the majority are fearful and continue to be even more fearful,” she said after noting that those once-protected under DACA are proud of their status. “Perhaps at some point those coming out of the shadows will go back into the shadows.”

An immigration attorney for more than a decade, Rocha said she was also in contact with the office of U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, who along with another Rio Grande Valley congressman issued a statement addressing Monday’s detainment.

“ It is clear that the DACA recipients in question were held for too long,” Gonzalez said in the statement.

Gonzalez went on to suggest that technical issues may have been a factor, according to his communication with Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector Chief Manuel Padilla.

“ Due to the rural location of the Falfurrias checkpoint, its technological systems suffer from low data speed — making it difficult to verify individuals’ immigration status in a timely manner,” Gonzalez stated.

Efrén C. Olivares, the racial and economic justice director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, was critical of the detainment.

“ This is a direct and unjustified attack on young immigrants as a direct result of this administration’s cruel decision to terminate DACA,” Olivares said.

In addition to the detainment, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, raised concern about the length of time the DACA recipients are being held.

“ CBP must ensure that Border Patrol agents at all levels are informed that DACA is still in place for the next six months,” Vela said in the statement. “DACA recipients cannot and should not be held for hours at checkpoints due to confusion over changes in policy. My office has been in touch with CBP to convey this information and I will be following up with CBP to know what guidance is being provided for agents across the field.”

The group’s detainment took place just hours before members of the Equal Voice Network held a brief news conference outside the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s entrance in Edinburg to announce a series of orientations.

These orientations will be designed to provide information to DACA recipients on application deadlines, as well as a thorough explanation of the rights of recipients whose statuses are expiring in the near future.

In the meantime, Carlos Moctezuma Garcia, a McAllen-based immigration attorney, echoed Olivares’ sentiments.

“ The government continues to instill fear in members of our community — we will not stand for it,” Garcia said. “We will fight back with everything that we’ve got. There is no reason to detain for two to three hours people moving about lawfully — people who are going to school or work; people who are visiting their family. It’s not right.”

zazueta@themonitor.com