His wife thought he was deported. So did his attorney. But on Wednesday they learned that Marcos Villanueva won a stay late Tuesday, halting his deportation to Honduras.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal in Santa Ana granted the Anaheim resident an emergency stay, which gives Villanueva an opportunity to appeal his case.
Deporting him “without an adequate hearing” may deprive Villanueva of constitutional rights, “and possibly result in his wrongful removal to Honduras and exposure to death or torture,” Bernal wrote in his order.
Willard Bakeman, Villanuevas attorney, said he expects his client will be returned to the James A. Musick Facility in the Irvine area pending an appeal.
“Basically, hes not going anywhere for a while,” Bakeman said.
Jenie Villalvir, Villanuevas wife, said her husband called before dawn Wednesday to say he was in an Arizona detention center and immigration officials were not putting him on an overnight flight to Honduras. Then, shortly before noon, she heard about the stay from Bakeman.
“There just seems to be so much uncertainty. Until I hear his voice again, and hes in Orange County, I cant be calm,” she said Wednesday afternoon.
Villanueva was picked up by immigration agents as he was going out for a coffee with his wife on Aug. 8, before taking their 12-year-old to her first day of school and then heading to his job as a house painter. His family and attorney believe he was targeted for detention on an anonymous tip from a revengeful uncle who allegedly assaulted the couples youngest daughter.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Villanueva days after the family was in court seeking an extension to a restraining order against the uncle. A judge found insufficient evidence to substantiate the claims of sexual abuse, first reported by the girls school to the police, and the restraining order was lifted.
“This whole case has been unusual,” Bakeman said.
Immigration officials targeted Villanueva despite his lack of a criminal record, his attorney said. And they rushed to deport him despite a pending appeal and a request for an interview with an asylum officer to review his claim that he fears returning to his country.
With more than 11 million people living in the country illegally, between 2 million and 3 million in California, who gets picked up and deported can at times be confusing.
Under the Obama presidency, especially in the latter years, enforcement focused on those convicted of serious crimes and those who posed national security threats. Under the Trump administration, ICE officials say they continue to focus their resources on those who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security. But the agency casts a much wider net and does not exempt anyone from arrest and deportation.
That includes people who entered the country illegally, as Villanueva did in 2005. He did not show up for a court hearing and was ordered deported in absentia. Villanueva was not properly notified, his attorney argued.
After his arrest Aug. 8, an immigration judge on Sept. 30 denied his motion to reopen the case. But that judge did not address Villanuevas claim “that he was afraid that he would be the victim of violence upon removal to Honduras,” Judge Bernal wrote.
“The Court is particularly concerned that (Villanueva) will be deported prior to having an opportunity for a full and fair hearing on this question given the (immigration judge) seems to have erred in failing to address whether country conditions have changed in Honduras (since 2005),” Bernal wrote.
Villanueva, 40, said he has been threatened by gang members, who shot him and killed a friend in front of him in 2005, prompting him to leave Honduras for the United States. He and his wife have three children, two of them live with the couple in Anaheim.
Villanueva “is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a stay,” Bernal wrote. That stay, he continued, is in the publics interest as there “is a public interest in preventing aliens from being wrongfully removed, particularly to countries where they are likely to face substantial harm.”
SCNG staff writer Sean Emery contributed to this report.
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