A Guatemalan seeking asylum was mistakenly expelled by U.S. authorities, despite the lack of a deportation order and before he even had his first appointment in immigration court.
César Marroquín, 29, was deported Aug. 19—the day he was supposed to have his first court appearance—along with dozens of deportees to Guatemala, the country from which he fled after being the victim of aggression and kidnapping, according to his account.
"They told me that if I didn't get on the plane, I'd be charged," Marroquín told Noticias Telemundo. "There was some mistake with me in the system."
His current attorney, Marty Rosenbluth, believes it is a flagrant error. "I’ve seen quite a few cases of people who were deported in error. I’ve never seen one quite like this where they were deported even before their first hearing."
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, said in a statement that Marroquín's deportation was due to an “administrative error” while his case was still open. "Such errors are exceedingly rare," Bryan Cox, ICE Southern Region public affairs director, said, "and in general, an alien removed to their home country without a final order can apply for admission to the U.S."
The authorities and Marroquín's attorney are now working on his readmission to the United States.
According to a formal complaint Marroquín filed in Guatemala, he said he suffered political persecution and physical violence after he supported a local politician and turned down a request to work with a rival one. After that, he said he was threatened and his home was damaged and raided; he also suspects someone tampered with his car. Marroquín said he was then kidnapped at gunpoint, tortured for several days and then left on the side of the road. He decided to leave the country after that.
"I was alone with my Google maps," said Marroquín, who described walking several miles guided by his cellphone after crossing the river near Falfurrias, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S. "I crossed the river because I couldn't find the border."
He said he came to a highway where a truck driver drove him for a stretch until they were stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint. There, Marroquín turned himself in.
He was taken to the Port Isabel detention center in Texas and then put on a flight to Louisiana where he was taken to the Catahoula Correctional Center in Harrisonburg. Months later, he was transferred to River Correctional Center in Ferriday, where he waited for the day of his court.
Aug. 19 was the date of Marroquín's first asylum hearing, which is usually the first meeting between asylum-seekers, attorneys and immigration judges. But that day, officials from the detention center came looking for him and other Guatemalans.
Marroquín said that despite being fearful and with conflicting instructions from the center's employees, he used the phone to get information about the status of his court date. Due to the pandemic, his court date was delayed but the process was still moving along; the automated system said his hearing with the judge would be Sept. 6.
An unexpected trip to the airport
But there would be no court hearing for him in September. Instead, Marroquín found himself being transferred from the River Correctional Center to the airport in Alexandria, Louisiana, where dozens of fellow Guatemalans were to be deported.
“[My companions] signed their way out. At no time did they give me any paper to sign. And then they told me that if I didn't get on the plane, I'd be charged," he told Noticias Telemundo, speaking on the phone from Guatemala.
Marroquín was aware that what was happening was not normal, but he was afraid to confront ICE officers, according to his testimony. Though he was thinking there must be a mistake when it came to his case, he said he was taken to the door of the plane. "I respectfully got on the plane because I couldn't disrespect U.S. authorities."
Following his deportation, the immigration lawyer working with him at the time accepted the outcome of the deportation and his case was closed in the automated immigration system records on Sept. 30, which ICE's Cox confirmed.
"This type of gross negligence is completely inexcusable," said Rosenbluth, his current attorney. "The law is very, very clear that they can't deport someone in the middle of in the middle of their immigration court proceedings. They're just not allowed to do it."