Immigration officials have declined to reopen the case of a 22-year-old Mayan refugee who is scheduled to be deported in two weeks based upon what his Bay Area lawyers call a miscommunication from 2002. Mario Mendoza's lawyers say he deserves to be granted political asylum in the U.S. because he crossed the border as a young teen and could be attacked if he returns to Guatemala.East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, a Berkeley-based group, has been helping Mendoza with his case.
But immigration officials are upholding a 2003 deportation order against Mendoza because he missed an immigration hearing years ago.
"This individual's immigration case has undergone extensive review by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and by the immigration courts," ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said in an e-mail. "At this time, he does not have a legal basis to remain in the United States."
Mendoza's lawyers, however, feel the review has been inadequate. The deportation decision did not take into consideration his age of contact with immigration officials or his ethnicity, Mendoza's lawyer, Nancy Powell said in an e-mail.
Mendoza came to the United States in 2002, about six years after Guatemala's 36-year civil war ended. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the conflict, and indigenous populations were attacked, according to the CIA fact book.
Mendoza crossed the border with five other people, none of whom he knew prior to the crossing or planned to have contact with afterward, Powell said. At the time, he only spoke Mam, an indigenous language of Guatemala.
The agents who picked up Mendoza's group arbitrarily selected one person and named him the "lead respondent," Powell said. That person provided an address for future correspondence.
After he was detained, Mendoza was released and ordered to appear at an immigration hearing, but he did not understand the instructions, according to Powell. Court officials sent a notice about the hearing to the address that the group member had provided, but the letter never reached Mendoza, Powell said.
Mendoza missed the hearing, so the judge issued an "in absentia" order of removal, meaning Mendoza was to be deported as a result. Last month, the judge declined to reopen the case because, saying Mendoza had been given sufficient notice of the hearing.
However, Powell said, "The ICE paperwork that generated the case has numerous errors. It says he was traveling with a cousin; he was alone. But the main problem is slumping people together and calling it 'adequate notice.'"
Mendoza didn't realize the court had ordered his deportation and spent the next five years supporting himself through odd jobs, Powell said.
In 2007, he returned to Guatemala for a cousin's funeral, according to a spokeswoman with the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant,
In Guatemala, members of a local security committee beat Mendoza and his grandfather because Mendoza's father had sided with guerillas during the civil unrest, sister Maureen Duignan of the Sanctuary Covenant said.
Mendoza returned to the United States, and in 2008, he sought legal asylum through the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. He had lost track of his family, but the group reunited him with his mother, who had already obtained asylum years earlier with their help, Duignan said.
It wasn't until he applied for asylum that Mendoza discovered he was supposed to be deported, Duignan said. Officials tagged him with a monitoring bracelet, and he was ordered not to leave California.
Mendoza was scheduled to be deported Tuesday morning but was granted two more weeks in the United States, Duignan said. He has never been arrested.
Duignan said the Covenant will do whatever it can over the next two weeks to keep Mendoza in the country, including appealing to Congressional representatives.
"He should have his day in court," Duignan said. "He got that deportation order when he was a child. He had no idea what to do, no fixed address, no place to go."