Federal immigration officials have denied a request for a high school student in Westchester County to stay in the U.S. The undocumented immigrant from Ecuador was arrested June 8, one day after his mother, and after officials had denied an asylum request and issued a deportation order in November. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has more on the case that has grabbed national attention.
On Monday, the attorney representing 19-year-old Diego Puma Macancela requested a stay of removal to allow the Ossining High School student to remain in the U.S. for a year, to earn his diploma. Carola Bracco is executive director of Mount Kisco-based Neighbors Link, which is representing the teen. She says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tuesday denied the request based on alleged gang activity in Ecuador.
“And the basis for this denial is that they are accusing Diego of participating in a gang that he actually was fleeing from,” Bracco says. “It’s not uncommon for youngsters or teens who are seeking asylum to be doing so based on fear of gang violence.”
Legal counsel for the teen Karin Anderson says she is exploring different options and not at liberty to discuss them.
“As it stands now, as a legal matter, there are no barriers to his deportation from the United States,” says Anderson.
She says executing the deportation order could take from a few weeks to a few months. An ICE spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Again, Bracco.
“In his asylum application, Diego, at the time he was 16 years old, revealed the lengths to which he went to avoid gang violence in Ecuador, eventually leading to his escape to the United States,” Bracco says. “Our goal throughout this case has been to allow Diego to stay in order to graduate from high school.”
On Tuesday, Puma Macancela, who was being detained separately, was moved to the detention facility where his mother is being held. Bracco thanked New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey for enabling the move.
“We’re not even convinced that his mom and Diego understood what the November 2016 judge’s ruling meant and whether or not they could continue to appeal that,” says Bracco. “In fact, the family felt that they had a lack of resources to be able to continue.”
Bracco says the mother and son crossed into the U.S. illegally at the Texas border in 2014 and filed for asylum. In November 2016, Bracco says their asylum applications were denied and deportation orders began. Bracco and others spoke during a conference call with reporters, community members and elected officials, including Mount Kisco Mayor Michael Cindrich.
“This is very disconcerting for me because, as you know, the message that I’ve been sending out is basically if you stay out of trouble, you have nothing to fear,” Cindrich says.
Cindrich says the case has a ripple effect.
“This incident is a major setback for the northern Westchester region in the community building that we’re trying to accomplish and making people feel welcome and assured of the fact that they will have due process. “ So maybe it’s more of an education issue than it is of petitioning the federal government to change their policies, that if we can get people, that if they do get a notification, if we can make sure people reach out to someone or somewhere for assistance immediately, we may be better off.”
Dana Levenberg is Ossining town supervisor. Given the national spotlight on the case, she wondered whether ICE denied the request as a scare tactic. Anderson replied.
“I would not characterize this as a scare tactic, it’s just as reflecting the reality of the difficulty of asylum law,” says Anderson.
Bracco describes Puma Macancela as an exemplary member of the community, working two jobs and attending school. There has been an outpouring of support for Puma Macancela since his arrest the day of his prom, including a petition of some 18,000 signatures backing the high school senior’s request to remain in the U.S. Immigrants rights groups, Ossining community members and classmates rallied in Lower Manhattan Monday, where they condemned President Trump’s immigration policies.