Marlon Castillo, 46, escaped his native Guatemala 25 years ago, seeking asylum in the United States. But when he went for an interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in downtown Los Angeles last week, he found himself arrested and set for deportation.
"I want them to stop and think about families like us," says Ana Castillo, his US-citizen wife and employee at the University of Southern California. "He has no criminal record."
Castillo has no criminal background. But he does have a deportation order signed by a federal judge some 20 years ago. It turns out his request for asylum was denied. And while it's not a criminal offense to not report for deportation, it became a hook for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take him into custody.
Immigration Attorney Meredith Brown calls that a "gotcha" arrest.
"Mr. Castillo was not reporting to ICE, he went to the service side of immigration, USCIS," Brown says. "They all say why don't those immigrants do the legal process and try to emigrate legally? Why? Well, we tried and what did we get? We have a detained client."
Castillo is being held in the detention center in Santa Ana while his family hopes he can find reprieve. He has two daughters as well, ages 6 and 14. The oldest spoke through tears about her father.
"My dad's done nothing wrong. He has no criminal record, he's always been good to me and my sister," Daelynn Castillo says, arguing that the federal government has its priorities wrong.
"It's not fair," she says. "The Trump Administration makes no sense. He has time to rip families apart but he can't give electricity to Puerto Rico? He can bomb countries but he can't let me stay with my dad? It's not fair."
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of LA is working on an online petition to ask the federal government to stop making arrests of undocumented immigrants who arrive at immigration offices for paperwork. A lawsuit in Boston over a similar case was recently filed against the US government.
ICE officials said Castillo entered the United States without inspection in 1992 at McAllen, Texas, and was ordered removed by an immigration judge on March 19, 1996.
In a statement, ICE officials said:
"ICE works with a variety of agencies to gather information and develop investigative leads. If an individual has violated the immigration laws of our country, they could be subject to immigration enforcement. While each case is evaluated on its own merits, individuals with a final order of removal have already been afforded their legal process in the nation’s immigration courts and must depart the country. If they choose to violate that judicial order, they could be subject to arrest, detention and removal."