Cold as ICE: falsehoods

Originally posted at the Houston Chronicle on April 23, 2008 »

When James Manning, assistant general counsel for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, filed a notice to appeal a judge’s decision not to deport Mauricio Barragan to Bolivia, he was required to list the facts on which the appeal was based.

In three paragraphs ICE’s Manning paints Barragan, about whom I wrote Sunday, as a shiftless, friendless drug user.

Barragan’s “multiple drug convictions as a juvenile, his arrests and convictions for drug-related offenses as an adult outweigh any equities he may have gained during his young adult period in the United States,” he wrote.

In fact, Barragan, who was brought here illegally by his parents, now citizens, when he was about 1 year old, had one juvenile offense and one adult offense at age 17, both for small amounts of drugs, both resulting in successful one-year probations.

Barragan’s parents’ claim to “extreme hardship,” wrote Manning, centers around the claim that he “will not be able to assist his parents on an occasional basis, or to help around the house as needed.”

Unflattering descriptions

In fact, before Barragan, 26, was incarcerated while Manning tried to have him deported, he was paying 50 percent of the mortgage and utilities on his parents’ house. His disabled father and part-time teacher mother could not afford to make the payments themselves, and foreclosure proceedings were initiated while Mauricio was incarcerated.

Barragan “quit school to work,” wrote Manning. “Since then, he has never held a job for more than 18 months and currently does not have a job.”

In fact, Barragan graduated in the top quarter of his class at Katy High School and, while working, earned enough credits to be a senior at the University of Houston.

The record, including a glowing recommendation from his former supervisor at Target, showed Barragan had worked at that company for nearly eight years and been promoted to team leader of the electronics department.

“He owns no real property,” wrote Manning.

Tax roles show Barragan to be the owner of the modest house in which he, his parents and his sister live.

Manning wrote that Barragan “has no significant social ties outside the home.”

In fact, Barragan has lived here since he was a baby, and has never been to Bolivia, where Manning wanted to send him.

One tie of Barragan’s that Manning doesn’t mention is to his 9-year-old son, Angel.

Angel’s mother testified that Mauricio had not only faithfully supported Angel financially, but also was a very involved father.

So why did Manning make these statements about Barragan, despite the fact that the court record refuted them all?

I wish I knew. I left messages for Manning on Friday, when a secretary confirmed he was working, and on Monday and Tuesday. He didn’t return the calls.

“I thought it was unethical for Manning to knowingly write those inaccuracies,” said Barragan. “If he didn’t write them knowingly, it was unprofessional.”

Barragan’s appeals lawyer, Joy J. Al-Jazrawi, was kind. She said ICE’s lawyers are overworked and can make mistakes.

She wrote Manning a letter pointing out the mistakes. He didn’t respond, but he didn’t repeat them in the brief he filed to the appeals court.

Without those trumped-up factors, however, Manning’s appeal was so weak that the appeals court unanimously rejected it without comment.

But for that appeal, Barragan would have been released last October rather than in late March.

That’s five months of pain for Angel and for Barragan’s parents, who lived in dread that he would be deported.

It’s also five months of burden on taxpayers. Instead of earning money and paying taxes, Barragan was housed at a jail operated in Harris County by Corrections Corporation of America at a cost of about $90 a day.

That’s nearly $14,000.

But we escaped a potentially much greater cost. The chances of a 9-year-old boy with a loving, supportive father growing into a contributor to society are much greater than of a boy angered by having that father ripped from his life over a minor marijuana charge that occurred before he was born.

Current law required that Barragan be held and brought before a judge to determine whether he should be allowed to stay despite his prior drug offense.

But once the record showed his contributions as a son, a father, and a worker, Manning should have hastened his release – not filed a collection of falsehoods to keep him incarcerated and his family in fear.

– Correction: In a recent column I mentioned that West University police Lt. T.M. Olive had submitted research he had done in preparation for the town’s new ordinance banning even hands-free cell phone use in a school zone for a college class he was taking. It was not at the University of Houston as his supervisor had told me. It was at Wharton County Junior College in Sugar Land. His teacher, Joyce Roberta Miller-Alper, gave the paper an “A.”

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