Jaime Leon Rivas, Undocumented Teen, Locked Up by ICE After Visiting Brother in Custody

Nineteen-year-old Jaime Leon Rivas, whose immigration case we wrote about this past spring, is back in the custody of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His crime? Going to visit his older brother at the GEO detention facility in Aurora, which houses undocumented immigrants detained by ICE.

Although Leon Rivas was granted a one-year "stay of removal" back in April, allowing him to remain in the United States while he applied for immigration relief, it appears as though ICE revoked that stay. His fiance, Jenny Martinez, says she was told that the revocation didn't occur until Leon Rivas walked through the doors at GEO to see his brother.

See also: Jaime Leon Rivas, Undocumented Teen Immigrant, Released From Detention

"ICE took his stay of removal on the spot," Martinez says.

On October 10, she, Leon Rivas and one of Leon Rivas's cousins made the hour-and-a-half drive from their home in Summit County to the GEO facility in Aurora to visit Leon Rivas's oldest brother, who is also undocumented and was scheduled to be deported. According to Martinez, one of the officers recognized Leon Rivas from his previous stay at the detention center. The officer told him to wait while he called ICE to make sure it was okay for Leon Rivas to visit his brother, since he'd once been detained there himself.

Martinez and Leon Rivas's cousin were allowed in, and Martinez says they visited with Leon Rivas's brother for about 45 minutes. Leon Rivas was also eventually let in. But after he spent about ten minutes talking to his brother, Martinez says Leon Rivas was led outside the visiting room by another officer. As Martinez and Leon Rivas's cousin watched through the glass in the visiting room door, he was taken into custody.

The officer told Martinez that Leon Rivas's stay of removal had been revoked a while ago, at the same time that the federal government rejected his application for a type of immigration relief known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which is available to young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. But Martinez says she later heard through Leon Rivas's lawyer that ICE hadn't actually revoked the stay of removal until Leon Rivas showed up at GEO. We put in a call to Leon Rivas's lawyer, Alex McShiras, on Friday but didn't hear back that day.

Leon Rivas's detention was particularly heartbreaking for Martinez because the two had planned to get married the day he was taken into custody. Their plan, she says, was to visit Leon Rivas's brother and then drive back to Summit County, where they would get a marriage license and exchange vows at the Breckenridge courthouse.

"I was in shock when they were taking him into custody because we thought since he had that one year, he was allowed to go in and nothing would happen," Martinez says. She adds that since Leon Rivas was released from detention in April, he'd been complying with all of the conditions ICE imposed, including regularly checking in with immigration officials and staying out of trouble. "He's just been going the right way," she says.

Leon Rivas and Martinez had gotten engaged, moved in together and were both working at the Outlets at Silverthorne. Leon Rivas was also working with McShiras on applying for various forms of immigration relief, including asylum.

Leon Rivas first came to the United States from El Salvador in 2005, when he was ten years old, in an attempt to flee the gang violence that took the life of his grandfather. He and a brother were caught crossing the border, and advocates say they were coerced into signing voluntary departure forms, meaning they agreed to leave the U.S. on their own. But they didn't. Instead, they traveled to Colorado, where they had family.

In 2007, ICE ordered that Leon Rivas be deported immediately. But the agency didn't come after him. He landed on ICE's radar after he wound up in Colorado's juvenile justice system. A troubled teen, Leon Rivas had several run-ins with law enforcement, including one that bought him some time in a juvenile detention center.

He came out of that experience a changed person, friends and family say. "He acknowledges that he's done things wrong," Jen Wolinetz, his former teacher at Snowy Peaks High School in Summit County, told Westword in March. "Jaime is able to reflect with genuine perspective on the choices he's made and he's willing to talk about it."

Even though Leon Rivas had been ordered deported in 2007, ICE decided to put him under supervision instead. His case was assigned to an officer, and Leon Rivas was required to check in with that officer on a regular basis.

On March 4, Leon Rivas showed up for his appointment to find that his supervising officer wasn't there. Instead, two other officers arrested Leon Rivas in front of Martinez, who'd driven him to the appointment. They explained that he was being detained because he had agreed to depart the country when he was ten years old but hadn't left.

Leon Rivas was taken to the GEO detention facility in Aurora, where his friends and family hosted a vigil for him on March 25, the day of his nineteenth birthday.

"I don't want him to get deported," friend Julian Maldonado told us. "He's been working really hard. He deserves a chance to make a better man of himself."

In early April, Leon Rivas was indeed released from the detention center. But now, six months later, he's back there again. "I just wish it was all a nightmare," Martinez says.

She reports that Leon Rivas has applied for another stay of removal and continues to work with his attorney on a path for him to stay here long-term. Martinez and Leon Rivas's family are raising money for his legal bills through a Crowdrise webpage titled, "Jaime's Family Ripped Apart Again -- Stop His Deportation!"

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at [email protected]

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar