Jose Escobar lost his legal status in a paperwork gaffe more than a decade ago when he was still a teen in Houston.
That slip-up, the fault of his mother who thought her child would be automatically included in her own renewal application, has trailed him ever since. Thursday it led to his surprise deportation to El Salvador, a country he hasn’t seen in 16 years.
The government’s decision to remove the 31-year-old father, who has no criminal record and is married to an American citizen, is the latest indication that President Donald Trump’s administration plans to deport practically any immigrant here illegally, even some like Escobar who were temporarily protected, who happens to fall into its cross hairs.
It comes just days after the president told Congress that he was removing gang members and drug dealers just as he had promised.
“Bad ones are going out as I speak,” Trump said.
Left behind now is Escobar’s wife Rose, a receptionist at Texas Children’s Hospital, and their two small children. It escalates the fear felt by many immigrants across the nation as they realize they are increasingly at risk.
“What the president is doing is going after everyone,” said David Leopold, an Ohio immigration attorney and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “This case is a tragic example of what’s happening on the ground.”
Rose Marie Ascencio-Escobar, 30, holds a photo of her husband Jose Escobar, 31.. Photo: Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / © 2017 Houston Chronicle Photo: Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle Rose Marie Ascencio-Escobar, 30, holds a photo of her husband Jose Escobar, 31..
Jose called Rose at around 2:30 p.m. Thursday to tell her that he was in the San Salvador airport and too terrified to step outside. The removal came after their lawyer, Raed Gonzalez, requested a stay of deportation to reopen Jose’s case. The government never responded, he said.
Cesar Espinosa, executive director of the advocacy group FIEL Houston, said Jose’s deportation would heighten anxiety across the city.
“It just sends a shock wave through the community,” he said. “It’s all coming to fruition and it’s very scary.”
The Escobars had thought they were safe. Since 2012, Jose has had a temporary reprieve from deportation and a work permit. He checked in with immigration authorities every year.
Wife of detained immigrant rallies supporters to his cause Ana Deicaza, left, a volunteer with Asociación Amiga, provides informational flyers about the rights of immigrants at the Gracia Abundante Church on Wednesday in Conroe. New guidelines have immigrants scrambling for answers on legal Sheila Jackson Lee is a candidate for U.S. Representative for TexasÂ 18th congressional district shown Tuesday September 20, 2016. (JeremyÂ CarterÂ / Houston Chronicle) Jackson Lee seeks inquiry in pending deportation Rose Escobar’s reflection is visible in a photograph of her family. Her husband, Jose, is being held for deportation to El Salvador after he went for his annual check-in with immigration officials. Local immigrant facing deportation after checking in with
Then Trump’s administration last week issued its new guidelines, making almost every immigrant here illegally a priority for deportation. When the Escobars showed up at their routine appointment on Feb. 22, immigration agents told Rose to bid her husband goodbye.
She went outside and sobbed. Then she vowed to fight. She comforted herself that she had been here before, when Jose was first detained in 2011, and that she had won that battle. After an intense 7-month media and congressional campaign, immigration agents released Jose, granting him the reprieve.
His was part of a wave of provisional stays announced that year by the administration of former President Barack Obama, who said he wanted to focus the government’s limited resources on deporting violent criminals, rather than people like Jose with clean records who had been here for years and have American children.
Jose came here when he was 15, qualifying for temporary protected status for people fleeing widespread disasters in certain countries. Then his mother assumed her renewal application covered him.
When he finally figured out that his permit had instead expired, it was too late. The government had already initiated deportation proceedings. His lawyer told him not to show up at the court hearing and in his absence, a judge ordered him removed in 2006.
By then, Jose was married to Rose, his childhood sweetheart whom he met in a Houston middle school. They tried to apply for his green card through his marriage to an American citizen, but lawyers said that he might risk waiting years in El Salvador because he had been here illegally.
Not knowing what to do, they carried on with their lives. They had a son, Walter. Then in 2011, immigration agents arrested Jose on the old deportation order.
Rose recruited the help of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, and in January 2012, Jose was released on an order of supervision, a provisional stay of deportation in a process known broadly as prosecutorial discretion.
But now the previous focus on violent criminals has been widened to almost anyone here illegally.
The change has swept fear across the country that has been heightened by widespread raids and incidents like the arrest this week of 22-year-old Daniela Vargas in Mississippi. Vargas previously had a protected status for young immigrants who were brought here illegally as children. Her permit expired last November, though she had since filed to renew it.
“This clearly sends a message,” said Bill Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Now the dragnet is meant to capture whomever it captures.”
Some argue that is a good thing, in keeping with Trump’s promises during the campaign to stop illegal immigration.
“They are facing consequences for their choices,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington D.C. think tank advocating for reduced immigration, in an email. “Some people think it’s not fair, but many others think it’s not fair to … look the other way when people remain here illegally.”
Rose doesn’t think it’s fair to take her husband away from her children, especially when he was complying with immigration instructions and not committing any crimes beyond being here illegally – a situation he couldn’t fix.
“I’m begging President Donald Trump to look into my case and see if my husband is really destroying America,” Rose said at an emotional press conference.
She said her husband is shuttered in her grandmother’s house in San Salvador, afraid to go outside in case the capital city’s many gangs attacked him when they recognized his American clothes.
She worries about how she will explain it all to Walter, who is 7.
“He just went somewhere boring,” she told him last week.
Since then, she’s said that Jose is actually on vacation. But she knows she will have to explain it to her son soon. Her daughter Carmen, who is 2, is too young to understand.
Once again, Rose promised not to give up.
“My husband is coming back and he’s coming back legally,” she said. “I’m going to be his voice and my children’s voice and the voice of those families who are being torn apart.”