Pedro Salmeron, by all accounts, is a promising Charlotte teenager. A solid student at Vance High, he played multiple musical instruments, never got into trouble. He lived with his parents and sister in northeast Charlotte. He has no criminal record.
Then, on Jan. 26, immigration agents took him into custody outside his home. He has been detained for the nine-plus months since, and is now about to be deported to El Salvador, as early as Saturday but more likely next Thursday.
Pedro, then 16, fled El Salvador in May 2014 after his cousin was murdered and dismembered by a gang for refusing to join, his family says. Pedro received death threats, too, and so illegally crossed the border into America as an unaccompanied minor seeking asylum. He fears he’ll be killed if he is sent back.
Immigration officials acknowledge he has a clean record, that he poses no national security threat, no public safety threat. But because he was caught crossing the border and was ordered removed after Jan. 1, 2014, he’s on the agency’s priority target list.
A spokesman with Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the Observer editorial board that an immigration court had ordered Pedro’s removal and that he lost an appeal. So he has had due process and should be sent back to El Salvador, ICE says.
Advocates for Pedro say that his original lawyer failed to make a case in court for seeking asylum from violence. They say he has an appeal pending before the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and that he should not be deported before that appeal is decided. ICE has the authority, they say, to delay Pedro’s deportation for a few more months while that appeal is resolved. There is no harm in keeping him detained here, they argue; there could be tremendous harm in sending him back into a dangerous situation in El Salvador.
Pedro was one of a group of minors known as the NC6 whose cases drew national attention this year. Their families say at least some of them were nabbed by immigration officials at their bus stops; ICE categorically denies that. Pedro has spent most of this year sitting in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga.
The Observer’s Mark Price has reported that some 68,000 Central American minors crossed into the country in 2014 with no pretense of hiding, most of them saying they were fleeing violence.
Pedro’s case is yet another reminder of how broken America’s immigration system is, and how desperately Congress needs to fix it with comprehensive reform. Yes, Pedro came here illegally. But consider all the factors: Entering the country was his only misdeed, and he did so out of very real concern that his life was in danger. Had he done so six months earlier, ICE wouldn’t even have detained him under Department of Homeland Security guidelines.
Here is a teen, living with his family in Charlotte – most of whom are here legally. He has committed no crime – not even a misdemeanor. He has the potential to be a productive taxpaying contributor to society. Instead, he is days away from being sent back to a dangerous situation in El Salvador while his family remains in Charlotte.
ICE should use its prosecutorial discretion and not deport him at least until his appeal in federal court plays out.