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Immigrant father released from detention after mail delay caused DACA lapse

Infamous Reading Jail Prepares To Open To The Public For The First Time Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Osman Aroche Enriquez, an unauthorized immigrant who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday while waiting to be given the chance to reapply for protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was released from immigration detention Thursday night.

The news of Enriquez’s release was confirmed by his fiancée. It’s not clear whether the deportation case against Enriquez will move forward or not.

Enriquez’s release came a day after Vox reported that he had been detained. It allows him to be home for his son’s first birthday on Saturday.

Enriquez is one of potentially thousands of immigrants who missed a government deadline because of mail delays in attempting to renew protection from deportation under the winding-down DACA program. His application was delayed for weeks in a US Postal Service processing center in Chicago.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services has said it will be inviting those immigrants to reapply for DACA at some point in the near future. But some of them, like Enriquez, have already lost their old protections before getting the chance to reapply for new ones — and Enriquez’s release doesn’t resolve the question of whether the Trump administration considers them deportable in the meantime, or not.

Was Osman Enriquez unusually unlucky?

Osman Enriquez is a pretty typical DACA recipient. He’s a 27-year-old from Guatemala who graduated from a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, high school and now works in stonemasonry. He was convicted of a “summary offense” (a minor crime) as a juvenile, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from qualifying for, and getting, protection under DACA. His fiancée has a green card, and their son, who’s not quite a year old, was born in the United States.

When the Trump administration announced on September 5 that it would end DACA, Enriquez’s work permit was set to expire in a little over a month — on October 15. According to the administration, that made him (and 154,000 other DACA recipients whose work permits were set to expire before March 5, 2018) eligible to apply for a two-year renewal of protections — but only if they got their applications in by October 5.

Enriquez went to the Lancaster office of the immigrant advocacy and legal services organization Church World Service for help with his renewal application. According to Carrie Carranza of CWS, his application was mailed September 18. “His application was mailed out at same time as many other DACA applications that have now been approved,” she told Vox on Wednesday.

But Enriquez wasn’t so lucky. His application arrived at the USCIS service center in Chicago on October 10 — three weeks after he mailed it, and five days after the deadline. It was rejected.

At the time, Carranza says, they didn’t really understand what had happened; “We told him, ‘We’re so sorry this happened; you did everything right; it was just a fluke, a debacle, out of your control.’”

It turns out the scope of the “debacle” was beyond anything she could imagine. It is likely that thousands of DACA renewal applications were mailed in advance of the deadline but were slowed down by USPS delays — including many that were received at government dropboxes on October 5 but were rejected because they were not picked up until the next day.

When reports from the New York Times and Vox highlighted the problem in November, USCIS reversed itself, declaring that immigrants whose DACA renewals had been mailed on time would be given the chance to reapply.

In guidance issued at the end of November (and included in the current FAQs about DACA on the USCIS website), the government says, “The USPS is working with USCIS to identify DACA requests that were received after the deadline due to USPS mail-service delays” — like Enriquez’s.

“As soon as USPS completes its assessment, identifies such requests, and provides this information to USCIS, USCIS will send affected DACA requestors a letter inviting them to resubmit their DACA request. If you receive such a letter, you will have 33 calendar days from the date of the letter to resubmit your request.”

The FAQ estimates that the Postal Service assessment will be done by “mid-December,” and that USCIS will send invitations to reapply about a week after that.

But in the meantime, Enriquez was in limbo. His work permit had expired, but he still had to work to support his family; his driver’s license had expired, because it was only valid as long as he had DACA, but he still needed to drive to get to work.

On Monday morning — six days before his son’s first birthday — as Enriquez drove down Route 83 to his contracting job, he was pulled over by a Pennsylvania State Police officer. The officer told him his vehicle registration had expired. Enriquez’s fiancée says the family thought they had kept their registration current; since Pennsylvania doesn’t put registration-date stickers on license plates, Carranza speculates that the only way the trooper would have known Enriquez’s registration had lapsed would be if she’d run his license plates when he drove by.

Enriquez was ultimately issued a ticket not for the expired registration, but for his expired driver’s license. But in the meantime, Carranza says, the state police officer had called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to come pick up Enriquez. ICE agents took him to the York detention center and served him with a notice to appear in immigration court — formally starting deportation proceedings against him.

On Thursday morning, Enriquez’s lawyer filed a motion to expedite his hearing for release on bond; that afternoon, a bond hearing was scheduled for December 26th. But later that afternoon, Enriquez’s fiancee, Sindy, got a call from him saying he might be released. By that evening, Enriquez was home.

Enriquez was released on an order of recognizance, which allows him to remain out of detention while his deportation case continues. However, according to his lawyer, Troy Mattes, Enriquez’ case had not yet been filed in immigration court as of Thursday — even though Enriquez had already been issued a Notice to Appear in immigration court.

This leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Was Enriquez released because he was eligible to reapply for DACA — and if so, why was he detained to begin with? Or was he released because of the media coverage his case received, and the pressure from advocacy groups to release him? And in that case, are there other cases of people who went from waiting for a DACA reapplication notice to ICE detention, and even to deportation, without the media knowing?

There are still several thousand immigrants whose DACA status is in limbo

While the Trump administration hasn’t been as sensitive to bad press in immigration cases as the Obama administration was, there have been cases in which immigrants have been released from detention after public attention was called to them. And in general, those have been cases in which the immigrants had or were eligible for DACA — immigrants who President Trump has said he has a “big heart” for, even as he agreed to wind down the program that would protect them.

The disconnect is that Trump and the White House, along with Republican congressional leadership, have portrayed the DACA program as fully in effect through March 5, 2018. That gives them, they say, several months to work out a legislative solution to the status of the 690,000 immigrants who were covered by the program as of September — and no need to attach any DACA fixes to a must-pass spending bill at the end of this month.

But because of the way the Trump administration chose to wind down the program, combined with the mysterious post office delays, thousands of DACA recipients have already lost protections. And while USCIS is theoretically going to mend the gap (by allowing immigrants whose applications were rejected due to mail delays to reapply), immigrants like Enriquez have to go on living their lives — without the protections they’ve grown accustomed to — in the meantime.

The administration’s playing a tricky two-step on DACA. Rhetorically, it claims it’s sympathetic to immigrants who grew up in the US and are “terrific people”; as a policy matter, it’s made it difficult for many of them to stay on the right side of the law by retaining their DACA protections. Enriquez’ case highlighted the disconnect. And by releasing him, it’s not clear if the administration is trying to adopt a more consistent attitude toward immigrants who have tried to retain their DACA — or whether it’s just trying to keep too many people from discovering how inconsistent the current position is.

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