An Iowa pastor whose detention by immigration officials sparked rallies in support of him and calls and letters of protest to federal authorities was deported to his native Honduras Friday.
Earlier this month, Mennonite pastor Max Villatoro found himself ensnared in a sweep by federal agents to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants who had convictions. Villatoro, 41, had convictions that dated back 20 years for driving under the influence and record tampering, a charge that stemmed from fraudulently obtaining a Social Security number in order to get a driver’s license.
His supporters, who included members of Congress, argued that Villatoro had become an asset to his community, staying out of trouble since the two convictions and raising four U.S.-born children who are now 7, 10, 12 and 15.
Villatoro’s attorney, David Leopold, said his client’s deportation contradicted the supposed new priorities among immigration agents that call for focusing on arresting and deporting those who pose the greatest danger to public safety and national security.
“These convictions were in the late 1990s,” Leopold said to Fox News Latino. “This is a good man, the worst thing you could say about him is he had a DUI in his life.”
On a Facebook page for human rights activists, Leopold wrote: “[Immigration officials] just sent me the following email: ‘Good afternoon. This is to confirm that's your client Mr. Villatoro was removed to Honduras today. He has landed. Thank you.’”
“And so it ends,” wrote Leopold. “Pastor Max Villatoro, dedicated husband, father of four U.S. citizen children, religious Mennonite leader has been kicked out of the country he's lived in for more than 2 decades. President Obama promised he'd focus on the removal of felons, not families; gang members not moms.”
Villatoro’s wife, Gloria, was quoted as saying in Iowa City Press-Citizen that she learned her husband had been deported through a call from Leopold. She said she was devastated and said the U.S. government was “destroying families like mine.”
The newspaper quoted another attorney for Villatoro as saying that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted Villatoro a work permit about a decade ago that remained valid until his arrest.
Last November, President Barack Obama said that immigration officials would focus on tracking down and removing undocumented immigrants who posed a public danger, and he called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a path to legal status for those without papers who met a strict set of criteria.
Many immigrant advocates had grown frustrated with Obama, who promised to reform the immigration system in his first term, but instead presided over a record number of deportations.
Regarding Villatoro, immigration officials released a statement quoted in published reports that said they are "focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of convicted criminals and public safety threats. The agency exercises prosecutor discretion, on a case-by-case basis, as necessary to focus resources on these priorities."