Arizona Couple Among Dozens To Get Deportation Relief

PHOTO: Kathy Figueroa sits with her mother Sandra in the lobby of the immigration court building in Phoenix. A few minutes earlier, an immigration judge closed the deportation case of Sandra and her husband Carlos.

An Arizona family tangled in a high-profile deportation case learned this week they can stay in the country. They are the latest example of unauthorized immigrants who were criminally prosecuted in Maricopa County, but the federal government is choosing not to deport.

Four years ago, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputies descended on a car wash and arrested about a dozen immigrant employees on felony charges for working with fake IDs

Sandra and Carlos Figueroa were among those arrested. At the time, their United States-citizen daughter, Kathy, was 9.

Right after her parents' arrest she appeared in a video on YouTube reacting to her parents' jailing.

"I never thought this would happen to my parents," she said through tears. She asked President Barack Obama to help. "And I don't want Sheriff Joe Arpaio getting other people and my parents again."

To date, Arpaio's office has arrested several hundred immigrants in the country illegally on felony identity theft charges in more than 70 worksite raids. It's a policy that's unique to Maricopa County.

The tactic has been criticized by the Department of Justice, and is mentioned in the agency's lawsuit against Arpaio for discriminating against Latinos.

For the Figueroas, they did eventually get out of jail, after pleading guilty to a felony. Carlos Figueroa said he and his wife used made-up Social Security numbers that didn't belong to anyone in order to work.

"Obviously I never used it to try to get benefits for myself," Figueroa said. "I never do that. I never took identity for anybody, I never took Social Security for anybody."

But the Figueroas were felons under the law.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiated deportation proceedings against the couple. The kind of felony on their record made them ineligible for any immigration benefits, and a priority for deportation.

"We had fear, we had a lot of anxiety," Sandra Figueroa said in Spanish, about the possibility of being sent back to their native Mexico.

But now we can finally rest easy, she said.

That's because this week, ICE decided to use prosecutorial discretion to close its deportation case against the Figueroas, which allows them to stay in the country. On Wednesday, an immigration judge made it official.

Kathy, once the tearful little girl, is now 13 and got her wish that her family will be together in Phoenix.

"Right now I am really happy, excited because it is a new life for us," she said.

Even the Figueroas' attorney, Delia Salvatierra, admits this was an unusual outcome.

"It's amazing that this case was administratively closed because there is an underlying felony conviction," Salvatierra said.

The Figueroas' case was high profile because the family's plight was captured in a recent documentary, and the local advocacy group Puente circulated petitions and made phone calls to stop their deportation.

Additionally, in recent months, local attorneys — including Salvatierra — have been persuading ICE lawyers to close the deportation cases of immigrants who have felonies on their record because they were caught using fake papers or assumed a fake identity to work in Maricopa County.

Salvatierra said dozens of deportation cases in that category have been closed in recent months. That includes several people who were arrested in February when MCSO raided a silk-screening shop and later plead guilty to identity theft felonies. Many of those immigrants had their removal cases closed from ICE detention facilities in Florence and Eloy.

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