Immigration officials Thursday evening released a young man from Honduras studying art in San Antonio whose detention attorneys had said represented a change in immigration policy under President Donald Trump.
Josue Romero, a 19-year-old who had received a work permit under former President Barack Obama’s deferred action program for young undocumented immigrants, was released after spending two days in custody and being told he’d be deported.
“I can’t describe how I feel. I just want to break down and cry,” Romero, a student at the Southwest School of Art, said after his release.
“I was kind of devastated,” he added later. “Because I’ve never known a life outside of San Antonio.”
Romero, who has a two-year work permit that expires next month as part of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants reprieves from deportation to some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, was arrested late Tuesday on a marijuana charge, according to Bexar County records. He later was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
The charge for possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a potential penalty of 180 days in jail. Romero said he was arrested for being in a city park shortly after it closed and wouldn’t comment on the marijuana charge.
Deferred action, known as DACA, can be revoked for committing a “significant misdemeanor,” which in the case of drug charges usually involves allegations of trafficking or distribution.
“Even with a conviction, it would not rise to the level of canceling his DACA,” said Jonathan Ryan, the executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, which is representing Romero.
Romero said agents told him that “DACA doesn’t matter in my situation, that I was going to be deported.”
ICE wouldn’t say why Romero was released and issued a brief statement Thursday evening.
“On Feb. 16, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed a detainer with Bexar County Jail on Josue Romero-Velasquez, from Honduras,” the agency stated. “He was later transferred to ICE custody. Romero-Velasquez was issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge Dec. 3, 2004. ICE remains focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes threats to national security, public safety and border security.”
Trump last month signed an executive order that greatly expands whom ICE can target for deportation, but he has not revoked the deferred action program.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, tweeted Thursday afternoon that he’d met with ICE officials and came away with the understanding that “Only Dreamers with no offenses (including traffic tickets) or perceived gang affiliations seem exempt” from deportation. “Dreamers” refers to those who are enrolled in DACA.
Romero said he’s being put on supervision and will be required to check in with ICE officers.
His friends and instructors at the Southwest School of Art and Say Sí program, which provides arts training to urban middle and high school students, praised him as a skilled artist who worked as a mentor for younger students.
Romero came to the U.S. when he was 4 and knows little of Honduras, his mother said. His father, Jose Francisco Romero, said he couldn’t eat or sleep after learning that his son was in detention.
“I’m just happy he’s back with us,” he said Thursday evening.