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Threat of deportation a battle for GHS alum

Nonviolent illegal immigrants fight to stay, work in U.S.

POSTED: April 27, 2014 12:00 a.m.

Maribel Gonzalez was inches from being another statistic — one of the almost 2 million immigrants deported under the administration of President Barack Obama.

“I actually remember when I was processed at the detention center,” she said of the now-shuttered Gainesville facility run by Corrections Corp. of America.

A felony conviction on the 26-year-old’s record made her case for deportation so cut-and-dried, the officer had two words for her, she recounted.

“He told me, ‘You’re screwed,’” Gonzalez said.

It was a patchwork of immigration laws that had brought Gonzalez to her predicament.

The Gainesville High School graduate was brought to Georgia at the age of 9. She never understood the concept of living in the country illegally until her teens.

“Basically, I never really thought about my immigration status,” she said. “I was a normal kid, a normal teenager, until it got to a certain point around age 16, 17.”

Friends were getting jobs; thinking about where to go to college. She, for her part, was trying to navigate authorization to work and affording out-of-state tuition.

“That’s when I realized, ‘I’m not a normal kid,’” she said.

In an admittedly ill-conceived teenage plot, she attempted to use falsified documents to obtain a state ID.

“Looking back, I realize how stupid I was,” she said.

She was arrested at her home and charged with felony forgery a few months later.

She met her public defender, new to her case after her first attorney left the office, at an arraignment hearing a year and a half later.

She pleaded guilty under Georgia’s First Offender Act. The charge could — and did — leave her record upon successful completion of 12 months of probation.

The chapter was seemingly over, until she was flagged for an immigration hold on a traffic violation last year. She was held at CCA for five weeks.

The deportation of nonviolent illegal immigrants has been a disappointment to Latino voters, who polls show favored Obama over Republican candidates by 20 to 30 percentage points.

“The bottom line is President Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president,” said Jerry Gonzalez, president of the Georgia Association for Latino Elected Officials. “From a Latino perspective, he is considered the deporter-in-chief.”

Republicans insist, using different statistics, the Obama administration has not enforced immigration law.

“It’s distinguishing between who’s deported; who’s removed; and how. They’re playing with the definitions to play with the numbers,” Jerry Gonzalez said. “Depending on who is authoring what, and what definitions they’re using, it determines different numbers and outcomes.”

Gainesville immigration attorney David Kennedy said cases like Maribel Gonzalez’s — a nonviolent deportation, often prompted by a traffic stop — are common.

“What we have is a situation where someone got an ID under a fictitious name or someone else’s name in order to work,” he said.

The action, while illegal, doesn’t necessarily represent a desire to defraud others of funds.

“They never really did anything that constituted a crime. All they did was want to work,” Kennedy said.

“It is absolutely nothing but an attempt on the part of certain higher-up DDS officials to stick it to people with deferred action because they don’t like that these people have any kind of status,” he added.

Comprehensive immigration reform has stalled in Congress, frustrating constituents and activists like Jerry Gonzalez.

“Congressmen shouldn’t listen to a nativist wing that wants to round everyone up and send them home,” he said.

But is home really “home” for immigrants like Maribel Gonzalez?

Her voice betrays the emotion of the saga for the first time when she talks about considering the possibility of being made to return to Mexico.

“It’s an awful feeling,” she said. “It’s everything. My whole life is here. I came here when I was 9. I don’t know anything about Mexico. I speak the language, but I know it would be extremely difficult to navigate that culture.”

Fortunately for Maribel Gonzalez, a Hall County judge agreed she probably wasn’t the type of felon immigration officials wanted to target: After seven months in limbo, Judge Kathlene Gosselin granted a motion vacating her sentence on April 16, relieving the mandatory order to return.

For their part, Maribel Gonzalez said she owes eternal gratitude to her attorneys, Graham McKinnon and Arturo Corso.

“I can’t stress enough how they never gave up,” she said. “They went above and beyond for me. I’ll never be able to repay them.”

Even for all the trouble it caused, Maribel Gonzalez said she doesn’t blame her parents for taking a nonlegal route to the states: in the Mexican town where she came from, a family cousin was kidnapped and held for six months. Another time, a body was left in their front yard.

“They dropped him off, knocked on the door and told my father ‘This could be you,’” she said.

They still don’t know who he was, or why it happened. A month and a half later, they crossed the border.

“I’m very thankful they made that decision. But at the same time, that wasn’t my choice.”

“I didn’t say, at 9 years of age, ‘I want to go across the border and be illegal and cause all of these problems for myself.’”


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