Raul Zamora

Urban studies senior Raul Zamora is one of many undocumented immigrants affected by new deportation guidelines from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These new parameters allow for low-priority deportation cases within the immigration court to be closed.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

For the first time in three years, Raul Zamora’s name does not appear on any upcoming immigration court dockets. The urban studies senior was detained as an undocumented immigrant in November 2009 and is one of thousands of undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation as a result of new deportation guidelines from the Obama administration.

“It doesn’t mean that I’m safe,” Zamora, who was subsequently denied work authorization after his case closed, said. “I’m still in legal limbo.”

This past December, Zamora’s deportation case was closed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department due to a series of new deportation guidelines issued by the Obama administration. The new guidelines encourage prosecutorial discretion, which classifies cases like Zamora’s as low priority to the U.S. government and removes them from the immigration court docket. ICE director John Morton announced these guidelines in an internal memo in June and government agencies have been enforcing them since.

In the memo, Morton advised officers to close low priority cases and focus on high priority deportation cases involving illegal immigrants with a criminal record. Low priority cases include those involving DREAM act students, students who have finished high school, individuals over 65, individuals who were very young when they were brought to the U.S. and individuals with ties to the U.S. military, among others.

These guidelines do not grant undocumented immigrants the right to work, even after their deportation case has been closed. ICE has recently come under fire for the guidelines because although they close certain cases, they do not terminate them. ICE officials can choose to reopen them at any time.

Gregory Palmore, ICE Houston field office spokesman, said Central Texas accounted for 14 percent of the nation’s total deportations in 2010, and the rate has remained high.

Denise Gilman, clinical law professor and Zamora’s lawyer, said the new guidelines are a positive move by the Obama administration but do not do enough to give closure to defendants.

“All the guidelines say is that certain individuals in a category will not be removed,” Gilman said. “It leaves them in a legal limbo where they are not allowed to find work and integrate.”

Gilman said the administration could go further to address issues in the undocumented community by expanding the categories of people who might have their cases closed, terminating the cases, providing work authorization and encouraging officers to follow the new guidelines.

House judiciary chairman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, opposes the new guidelines and said they are the equivalent to “backdoor amnesty.” Smith said according to recent information by The Associated Press, 1,600 illegal immigrants have benefited from the pilot program in Baltimore and Denver. These immigrants will subsequently apply for work authorization, he said, affecting American workers.

“If these results play out in Texas, thousands of illegal immigrants will be granted administrative amnesty and thousands of Texans will find it harder to get jobs,” Smith said. “How can the Obama administration justify granting work authorization to illegal immigrants when so many American citizens don’t have jobs? Citizens and legal immigrants should not be forced to compete with illegal workers for scarce jobs.”

With his fall 2012 graduation looming closer, Zamora said he will continue to fight for work authorization. His case will be featured this Saturday in the Texas Dream Alliance Summit, a clinic offering undocumented students free legal advice on their individual cases.

“ICE needs to look at the human side,” he said. “We’re not just numbers, we’re people. All we want is an education and to make our families proud and for future generations to get an education.”

Urban studies senior Raul Zamora may not graduate in 2012 after a broken taillight led UT police to discover his undocumented immigrant status.

Zamora is facing a deportation battle that began on Nov. 6, 2009, when UT Police Department officers pulled him over on Robert Dedman Drive. More than 18 months later, he continues to fight with his deportation hearing rapidly approaching.

After talking to him and running his information in a database, the officers arrested Zamora, who had several outstanding warrants for traffic violations, and he was taken to the Travis County Jail where he stayed for three days.

Zamora said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials detained him as an illegal immigrant after they questioned him at the Travis County Jail.

Federal agents transported Zamora to the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall, Texas, where he stayed for four days. While there, Zamora says he decided to fight against his deportation orders.

UTPD Chief Robert Dahlstrom said campus police do not inquire about the immigration status of the people they pull over.

“This campus has a lot of students that are from different parts of the world, and we do not stop people for that reason, nor do we know that when we stop them,” he said.

According to Zamora, he and his parents entered the United States from Mexico in 2000 with visitor’s visas. He was 10 years old. His family stayed after the visas expired.

Zamora said he was disappointed by UTPD officers’ treatment of him and in their decision to arrest him — even after he told them he would be deported if they did so.

“He didn’t read me my Miranda rights and kept insisting that they were just taking me to jail to pay my ticket even though I told them ICE was going to get there and try to deport me,” Zamora said.

Dahlstrom said ICE officials are often stationed at jails to check the immigration status of those who get booked — which is exactly what happened to Zamora.

“Officers on the street do not force immigration laws, but immigration officials have every right to check on people that are arrested,” he said. “Had he paid for the tickets beforehand, he would not have been arrested, and this would not have happened.”

Zamora had two hearings last year, but both were postponed because of technicalities on court documents. He will have another meeting before a deportation judge in San Antonio on May 26, and he said he hopes to postpone that, too.

Zamora plans to register for the fall semester soon and said he hopes he will be able to graduate before being deported.

“I’ve been here in Austin since I was 10,” Zamora said. “I’ve been wanting to go to UT since I heard about it. And now they are going to take this away from me?”

Father Jayme Mathias, pastor at Cristo Rey Catholic Church, is helping Zamora collect letters of recommendation and documentation of past achievements to prepare for his next deportation hearing.

“For those who are not deported, a lot of it comes down to their character,” Mathias said. “I have known Raul since he was a freshman in high school. A person who has such great potential and who has committed no real crime should be allowed to stay.”

Mathias said he has seen this situation many times before as the pastor of an undocumented community and that he is saddened that young people with no connection to their home country are deported. About 200 undocumented students attended UT in the 2009-10 school year, according to the Office of Admissions.

On campus, the University Leadership Initiative focuses on supporting the DREAM Act so undocumented UT students can be productive Americans after graduating, said Loren Campos, president of the group.

The DREAM, or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, was a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors to gain conditional permanent residency after attending college or serving in the military for two years.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in December 2010, but it failed to pass the Senate after a Republican-led filibuster stalled the legislation.

Campos said the organization creates online petitions asking the general public to voice their support of students in Zamora’s situation and by contacting officials who can stop their deportation.

“We get all the information about what happened in their case and put it online,” Campos said. “We ask anyone in general to send faxes, send emails and make phone calls. Most cases have been successful in that these students’ deportation status has been deferred.”