The United States deports undocumented immigrants every day, but few get petitions and a rally on their behalf.
Jesus Torres Salayandia, a former Johnson County Community College student, has gotten that support because his Belton church friends and neighbors say he’s the first undocumented student in their community, that they know of, to face deportation.
Salayandia, whose parents brought him to the U.S. without documentation when he was 6, has been ordered to leave the country by April 13.
On Monday, about 50 people who want the 21-year-old Belton resident’s deportation stopped, gathered outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field offices in the Northland.
They prayed, shouted through a bullhorn and carried petitions. They called Salayandia’s pending deportation “good evidence” that U.S. immigration officials are not following last year’s directive from President Barack Obama. The president called for a case-by-case review of pending deportations, with an eye toward prioritizing the removal of those with criminal records, rather than deporting traffic violators, and students who came as young children to the country with parents.
In June, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton instructed immigration authorities to use prosecutorial discretion when undocumented people are not criminals, or have attended school here all their lives.
“That is what we want for Jesus, prosecutorial discretion,” said Angela J. Ferguson, a Kansas City immigration attorney. “Let him stay.”
Ricardo Quinones, a University of Kansas student and Salayandia’s longtime friend. said: “Jesus is a friend, a son, a brother, a student but he is not a criminal.”
U.S. immigration officials did not return calls Monday seeking comment.
Trouble began for Salayandia, a Belton High School honors graduate and a member of St. Sabina Catholic Church, after he was stopped 10 months ago by Belton police for an alleged traffic violation. He said that when he could not produce a driver’s license, immigration officials were contacted.
Since then, Salayandia has been in and out of courtrooms seeking permission to stay here. It’s his second brush with immigration. He was deported at 16 but returned three weeks later to finish his education.
On March 8, he appeared before an immigration judge and his attorney pleaded for the court to halt the latest deportation. Instead, Salayandia was arrested. He was released Monday morning and told to leave the country voluntarily or get deported.
Homeland Security guards stopped the Rev. Chuck Tobin, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church, from entering the federal building to deliver petitions.
“I was told it could be a threat to security,” Tobin said.
Salayandia arrived at the rally as Tobin led Monday’s gathering in prayer for immigration leaders, cultural unity and for all immigrants, refugees and migrant workers in the U.S.
“I did not expect this, all these people who don’t even know me. It is humbling,” Salayandia said.
“This is home for me. This is my culture. I don’t know anything else My family, my friends, my life is here.”