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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Why did ICE target Diego Ismael Puma Macancela for deportation?

Diego Ismael Puma Macancela was arrested on the

Diego Ismael Puma Macancela was arrested on the morning of his prom. Why did ICE target Macancela and his mother? Photo Credit: Mark Chiusano

The ICE enforcement team came for the 19-year-old in Westchester the day after they arrested his mother. It was Thursday, the day of Diego Ismael Puma Macancela’s prom.

He had spent the previous night at his aunt and uncle’s but he drove home in the morning to feed his two dogs, says his cousin Gabriela Macancela, 21. When he returned to his aunt and uncle’s house, he was afraid Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers might have followed him. Soon they were outside.

He and his cousin called everyone they knew — family members, lawyers, friends. Stay in the room, they were told. Don’t open the door. But then Gabriela says she got a call from someone identified as being with ICE. She says the agents threatened to arrest other members of the family.

Diego decided to walk out. Now he’s in a detention facility in Hudson, New Jersey, with deportation pending. Another person arrested, for what gain beyond political posturing?

A hard working student

Diego Macancela is a young man whose only crime was being brought to the U.S. as a minor from Ecuador, according to a letter Macancela’s congresswoman, Nita Lowey, sent to ICE’s acting director. He and his mother had been fleeing gang violence.

They were detained at the border in 2014, released pending court hearings. His cousin Michael Macancela, 15, says Diego was sometimes worried about being sent back to Ecuador, that his new life could evaporate. Yet things were getting better recently: Gabriela says he received a work permit and New York State driver’s license.

What did he do? He worked two jobs at McDonald’s and a pizzeria near his home in Ossining, a village growing more and more defined by immigration. He went to school, wanted to learn how to be a mechanic, was nearing graduation this summer.

He was saving up to buy a car, not the one he borrowed from his parents in which he’d drive his younger cousins.

When he came to New York, his cousins helped him learn English and taught him the local geography. The family took him on trips to Rye Playland, Lake Compounce amusement park, New York City. They visited the Statue of Liberty, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. He had never seen snow before, Gabriela says.

He quickly learned passable English, transitioned to school. How did he tend to occupy himself? “Work,” say his cousins. His family was saving up to pay the “loan” for their trip north, says Gabriela. That was easier to do here. But now they’re facing a return.

What was the rationale for upending this family’s life, forcefully removing them from the strands of America they’d become entwined with — school, work, economy, neighborhood? Immigration advocates are quick to note that these stories have been going on through at least three presidencies. The expedited process that resulted in the removal of many families like Diego and his mother was put in place by President Barack Obama in 2014, a reaction to a surge of southern border crossings. If those would-be immigrants are unsuccessful in their court hearings, as was the case for Diego in November, they’re subject to removal.

ICE's PR campaign

But arrests of people here illegally have sped up in the administration of President Donald Trump, with a nearly 40 percent increase between January 22 and April 29 of 2017 compared to the same period last year. Trump has said publicly that he’d treat some immigrants with compassion, but his administration officially considers almost anyone in the country illegally a priority for removal, not just those who have committed serious crimes or recently arrived. And the fallout is piling up. More than twice as many people arrested during the above period had no criminal convictions as compared with the period in 2016.

We know this because ICE prominently publicized the jump in arrests last month.

Other elements of Trump’s agenda are woefully stalled: a second appeals court upheld injunctions of elements of the “travel ban” on Monday. “Infrastructure week” was . . . less than monumental.

Yet the stream of arrests by ICE continues, many of them getting more coverage than they might have in earlier eras. The arrests include serious criminals, but also the mother in Arizona who was arrested because she used a false Social Security number in her job at a water park. In New York, a dad here for 30 years was suddenly ordered deported for two 20-year-old DWI convictions.

Add Diego to the list, the emotional details of his youth and foregone prom just something to be cheered by the most vocal of Trump’s base, another example of the liberals who “don’t get it” among the “get them all out,” “America for Americans” crowd. He wasn’t born here — send him back. Another deportation, another applause line at Trump rallies. And maybe, in the end, that’s the reason the list continues to grow.

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