The fate of a Bayfield resident who owns two businesses is uncertain after Immigration and Customs Enforcement suddenly detained him when he showed up to a regularly scheduled appointment with ICE in early February.
Edin Mejia Ramos, a husband and father of three, has been sitting in an immigration detention cell in Aurora since Feb. 5, awaiting deportation to Honduras, his home country he fled 15 years ago because of violence and political unrest.
Meanwhile, his wife, Thalia, and three children, ages 6, 8 and 10, are wondering how the family will stay together and how Thalia will run the two Bayfield-based businesses the couple has had since 2006.
Monica Newcomer Miller, Ramos’ attorney, said there is little hope that Ramos will be able to stay in the United States, even though he has worked for several years to obtain legal status. She said Ramos is a victim of a surge of immigration arrests under the Trump administration.
“Under the Obama administration, ICE had priorities of who to target,” she said. “If someone was here without criminal history and had family ties here, they were not a priority. With the Trump administration, that changed. There are no longer levels of priorities.”
Since before he took office, President Donald Trump said illegal immigration would be his priority and promised to increase deportations of “bad hombres,” who he said are bringing drugs and crime across the border.
But more than 90 percent of removal proceedings initiated in the first two months of the Trump administration were against people who committed no crimes, according to data gathered by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. According to Miller, Ramos has no criminal convictions.
When you look at the fiscal year, Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2016-17, Trump has overall deported fewer immigrants than former President Barack Obama did during the previous fiscal year. This includes both “interior” deportations and border deportations.
The number of “interior” deportations of people who already live in the United States – not those who were detained at a border – increased 37 percent from Jan. 20 to Sept. 30, 2017, the first nine months Trump was in office, according to a 2017 ICE report, when compared with the same months the previous year. Trump’s administration deported 61,094 people; the Obama administration deported 44,512.
Ramos has been living undocumented in the U.S. since 2003 when he left Honduras because of widespread corruption and crime. He settled in Bayfield, where he met Thalia in 2006. The couple married a year later and had three children.
In 2006, they opened a medical facility cleaning business, Sun Cleaning. In 2015, they opened Sun Linen Services, a commercial laundry business. Between the two businesses, the Ramoses employ 13 people.
Thalia said it has been an ongoing struggle for her husband to obtain lawful permanent residence, which started after they were married in 2007.
“Even though a person might be here illegally and marry a U.S. citizen doesn’t mean they can automatically adjust their status,” she said. “It depends on a lot of factors.”
After their marriage, Edin applied for an adjustment of status, which required him to return to Honduras for an interview at the American consulate, but his application was denied. Edin returned to the United States rather than move his family to Honduras because it is unsafe.
“People might disagree with his choice to come here illegally, but that was his only option at the time,” Thalia Ramos said. “He’s always done his best to put the country first. He loves the United States and believes this is a really great country.”
Thalia said Edin had been detained by ICE once before, in 2012, but he was later granted a stay of removal, or a temporary postponement. Edin successfully renewed his stay of removal every year, as required.
“We felt pretty confident with having our businesses and Edin not having a criminal record, but this current administration doesn’t care about anything but their deportation numbers,” she said.
Miller, Edin’s attorney, said ICE denied his stay of removal in November 2017, which she believes was because of a shift in immigration policies under the Trump administration. She said Edin was given a grace period of an undetermined amount of time to get his affairs in order before being deported.
“I was emailing with the immigration officer, and there was no official date for deportation,” she said. “They said he had another check-in on Feb. 5, and they detained him. It feels very arbitrary.”
Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for ICE, said the agency has granted Edin four stays of removal since March 2013.
“On Nov. 13, 2017, ICE denied his fifth request for a stay of removal,” Rusnok said in an email to The Durango Herald. “Ramos was arrested without incident after he checked in to the Durango ICE office ... and he has exhausted his requests for a stay of removal.”
Rusnok said ICE continues to focus its resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, but anyone in violation of immigration laws could be arrested and deported.
“As ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” he said in the email. “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
When speaking to national media reporters in December, Homan said: “There’s no population that’s off the table. If you’re in the country illegally, we’re looking for you.”
Thalia said her husband was taken to the detention facility in Aurora. Neither he nor his attorney know when he will be deported to Honduras.
Miller said the Ramos family has exhausted their legal options, and there is little more they can do than wait.
“There are a lot of people who are good, upstanding citizens who face deportation,” she said. “He has never tried to hide from immigration or be sneaky about it, but because of this administration’s stance on immigration, we couldn’t get that renewal. ICE has made it clear he will be detained until he is removed, but we don’t have a sense of how much longer that will be.”
Edin’s story is not uncommon in this region, said Danny Quinlan, executive director of Compañeros, the Four Corners immigrant resource center.
“We are seeing a lot of people from this area who had a stay of removal that needed to be renewed yearly, and all of a sudden, they’ve been denied this year or last year,” he said.
He said the process of applying for lawful permanent residence is sometimes counterproductive for immigrants because ICE denies their applications and it puts them on the agency’s radar.
“Perhaps if he (Edin) had never attempted and flew under the radar, they wouldn’t be in this situation,” Quinlan said. “We don’t advocate for people to avoid applying, but a lot of people who attempted are suffering the consequences. Ramos’ case is quite frustrating; his family is going to get torn apart.”
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, advocated for a permanent solution for the Ramos family during a speech he gave on the House floor in April 2016 defending the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policies.
“He fled his home country to avoid persecution,” Polis said during his speech. “He is married to a U.S. citizen. ... They make investments in our local community and we rely on them for jobs and the services they provide.”
Polis represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes 10 counties in north-central Colorado. During his nearly six-minute speech, Polis referred to the Ramos family as his “constituents” and said “he is a very successful business owner in my district.” But Edin and Thalia Ramos have never lived in Polis’ district; they were living in Bayfield at the time of his speech.
Jessica Bralish, spokeswoman for Polis, clarified his speech in an email to The Durango Herald on Tuesday.
“Congressman Polis references Edin’s family, and he does have family members in the district,” she wrote. “It could have been clearer.”
Thalia Ramos said her parents live in Fort Collins, which is in Polis’ district, and alerted him to their son-in-law’s situation.
Under the deportation order, Edin will have to stay out of the United States for 10 years before he can apply for a waiver to return, Miller said.
For Thalia, that means making the difficult decision of remaining in the United States with a fractured family, or leaving her home to join Edin in Honduras.
“It puts us in a pretty tough position because Honduras is not a safe country,” she said. “My children understand Spanish, but they do not speak it very well, so it makes us easy targets for violence. But staying here and trying to raise my children without a father and running two businesses is also difficult.”