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DREAMer Stranded for Weeks in Mexico After Confusion at Port

A mistake that left a man unable to re-enter the United States for weeks should serve as a warning for those with a sensitive immigration status, a leading immigration attorney said this week.

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EL PASO  — A  mistake that left a deferred action beneficiary unable to re-enter the United States for weeks is being cited by immigration attorneys both as an example of confusion over certain laws and as a warning to those with a sensitive immigration status.

On Aug. 12, Josue Alberto Rodriguez, 24, who received legal permission six months ago to remain in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, was driving to the West Texas border town of Presidio to pick up his sister and her family. When he realized he was approaching a port of entry into Mexico, Rodriguez — who is not allowed to travel outside the U.S. — tried to turn around.

“I saw the checkpoint and there was a [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] officer signaling for me to go to the left,” he said. “That takes you to a parking lot. There is no way to turn around unless you are on the Mexican side.”

Construction at the bridge was ongoing, and detours narrowed southbound traffic to one lane. CBP agents directed Rodriguez to take that lane, which ended in a parking lot on the Mexican side. Rodriguez was subsequently forced to stay in Mexico until Thursday.

The deferred action initiative grants certain undocumented immigrants a two-year reprieve from deportation proceedings and a work permit if they meet certain guidelines. But they cannot travel outside the country.

Roger Maier, a CBP spokesman, said the agency is always watchful for people who inadvertently cross into Mexico. He declined to comment on Rodriguez’s specific case, however.

“CBP does not generally comment on specific encounters with members of the traveling public. CBP officers do help people turn around when it is brought to their attention that the traveler is inadvertently leaving the country,” he said in an email. “Some port locations have areas where people can make a U-turn and return north without crossing the border and CBP officers often assist people making that request by providing direction, stopping traffic temporarily and so forth when the layout of the facility allows.”

Attorney Carlos Spector, whom Rodriguez’s sister, Lydia Cervantes, contacted earlier this week, said CBP conceded that agents made a mistake in directing Rodriguez into Mexico. He added that Rodriguez was told repeatedly by CBP officials that they could not help him, leading to his weeks-long stay in Mexico. He was told to make multiple visits with officials in ports of entry at Presidio and El Paso, as well as the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juárez. At one point he said a U.S. official at the consulate told him that he “deported himself.”

Earlier this week, Spector was able to facilitate Rodriguez's re-entry into the U.S. after CBP released him to U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services to apply for deferred action, which he already has.  

Spector said Rodriguez’s story should send a message to DREAMers — or other immigrants with a tenuous status — that they shouldn’t chance being denied re-entry. He mentioned the case of the so-called DREAM 9, a group of activists in Arizona who knowingly left Mexico and publicized their attempt to gain entry back in to the country. Instead of just being denied access however, the group was detained by U.S. authorities. They eventually asked for asylum and were granted parole while their cases progressed. The stunt split the immigrants’ rights community after some wondered what — if any — change was fostered by the move.

“The advantage now for the DREAMers is that this provides insight to lack of uniformity along the border,” he said. “This, along with what happened in Arizona, shows that it’s all decided on a case-by-case basis.”

It is a snapshot of modern-day border policy and the lack of fluidity in enforcement policies, he added. Rodriguez’s case should have been solved quickly and simply through a variety of options, including humanitarian parole, he said.

“CBP seems to be taking it seriously but even if resolved, it represents an institutional problem that needs to be corrected,” he said."

Spector also represented Jabin Bogan, the Dallas trucker who spent seven months in a Mexican jail for mistakenly crossing into Mexico with ammunition. Bogan was released after his attorneys agreed to a lesser charge and time served.

But Cervantes said her brother’s case is simple: He wasn’t a protester and knew he couldn’t cross.

“All he was trying to do was help and at this point, I feel horrible,” she said Wednesday, clutching copies of her brother’s diploma from a Lubbock high school, his driver’s license and DACA permit, as well as letters of support from Rodriguez’s employers and church. “This was not supposed to happen.”

On Thursday, Rodriguez was just happy to be back in Texas — and had his own advice for would-be crossers or activists.

“It’s like playing with fire,” he warned future protesters. For others, he said: “Be well-informed and ask people where you are. I told officers maybe I didn’t know where I should have been. It was my mistake — I’ll be more careful next time.”

Maier recommended the same. 

It is also important that travelers be aware of their surroundings and avoid these situations as well if they have no intention of leaving the U.S.," he said. 

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