When Sadrac Cumatz Sac moved to the Rochester area two years ago, neither he nor his foster family imagined that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would be knocking on their door early one Sunday morning to detain him.
But according to foster mother Holly Adams, that’s exactly what happened March 25 because of a complicated and confusing legal process in which Sac found himself mired. And just a month later, Sac, 18, was released from the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia with little fanfare, she remarked.
Because he had not been told he would be released, Sac thought he was being deported to his native Guatemala, Adams said.
"But they walked him to the gate and just let him go, which is just amazing," she said.
Sac’s journey to the Rochester region began at a detention center for minors in El Paso, Texas, Adams said. His parents had sent him north to find work, and he rode trains to the U.S. border, explained Mary Lupien, who is related to Sac’s Guatemalan family through her daughter. Unable to run in the snow and separated from his group, he was caught in Nevada’s mountains, she added.
"They called me for advice when he was picked up, and I was told I could find a family for him," Lupien said.
Adams and her husband, Chris, answered the call to help through an unaccompanied minor program in which Sac was enrolled, she said. Adams thought her two sons, one in high school and another in college, would be helpful in Sac’s acclimation to a new place, she added. She also knew some Spanish from traveling through El Salvador, but Adams said that she didn’t realize how little she knew until he arrived.
"Sadrac came speaking no English, and my Spanish was not great," she said. "So, initially language was a struggle. But from the get-go, Sadrac proved himself to be very kind, trustworthy and easy to get along with."
The family enrolled him in the Keshequa School District, which is in Livingston County, where Adams is employed, and although the district does not have English as a Speaker of Other Languages program, the teachers worked diligently to help Sac, she said.
Shortly after his arrival, Sac and the Adams family ended up in court without a lawyer because Adams said she couldn’t find an attorney who had the knowledge and who was affordable. Once she found help through the Volunteer Lawyer Project, the family was steered toward voluntary departure and Sac received a departure date, Adams said.
But then, Adams said, the family met with the Guatemalan consulate, which recommended reopening his case because of a memorandum issued by President Barack Obama to allow for prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases.
"We don’t deport every individual we encounter and/or detain every individual," Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Ross Feinstein wrote in an e-mail to El Mensajero Católico. "With an estimated 11 million people in the United States, our focus is on convicted criminal aliens, recent border crossers and those who pose a threat to public safety. We only have the resources to deport around 400,000 people a year."
Because Sac received a stay order after his case was reopened, the family was hopeful that ICE officials would apply such discretion in his case, Adams said. For months, the family received no news, she said.
So they were caught completely off guard when ICE agents showed up that March Sunday to take Sac into custody, she said. Two days later, she learned that he was detained because of having violated his departure order and that the family’s petition to stay the order had been denied. Adams worked with local activists, circulated petitions and hired another lawyer. Sac was granted a one-year stay of removal, which allowed for his release from the detention center in Batavia, she said. The letter she received from the Department of Homeland Security indicates that prosecutorial discretion was used in his case, Adams added.
"They took into account the fact that he has ties to his community, is pursing his education and is not a threat to society," she said. "It’s pretty extraordinary."
So Sac will continue with the GED studies that were interrupted by his detention, Adams said. And the family hopes he will be allowed to stay in this country, she noted, adding that his parents have consented to letting him stay with them.
"He does not want to go back and they don’t want him to go back," she said. "For him, this is his home now."