DALY CITY, Calif. (KTVU) - A group of teenagers in San Francisco are rallying around a family whose father was detained by ICE in Daly City, Calif. after he missed a deadline to reapply for protections that would have kept him legally in this country.
On Thursday, students at the June Jordan School for Equity in San Francisco spoke out, highlighting the plight of 42-year-old Juan Francisco, who they say was taken into ICE custody on Nov. 30 as part of a "collateral arrest" and now is being held at a detention facility in Yuba City, Calif.
“We have no reason to celebrate this Christmas,” said Jordi Lopez, a student leader from the group “415 Unidos for Freedom.”
He and his friends have connected with Francisco’s daughter, Melissa, a student at Thomas R. Pollicita Middle School in Daly City, where they held a news conference. The high school students decorated a “community Christmas tree” in Francisco’s honor at his daughter's school to remember the “true origins of Christmas,” student Heidy Cruz said.
Speaking briefly, Melissa told the crowd, "The only gift I want for Christmas is for my dad to be with me."
Christmas is a special time for the family, and the students released a photo of Francisco and his two children last season posing in front of a nativity scene.
In addition, the students said they have visited the office of Sen. Kamala Harris about four times to speak with staffers about what, if anything, can be done to help Francisco.
ICE did not immediately respond to KTVU’s request for comment, or to confirm Francisco’s background or why he was taken into custody.
Late last month, Francisco opened the door to immigration agents who were looking for someone else who used to live at the same address, according to Lorena Melgarejo, executive director of Faith in Action Bay Area, who is helping to champion his case.
Francisco came to the Bay Area from El Salvador in 1998 and did not have the proper documentation at the time, Melgarejo said, prompting a deportation order 20 years ago. But in 2001, Francisco, whom she said has no criminal history, was able to secure a Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, allowing him to get a legal work permit and driver's license.
Congress established the TPS status, mostly for Salvadorians and Haitians, under the Immigration Act of 1990. It’s a humanitarian program whose basic principle is that the United States should suspend deportations to countries that have been destabilized by war or catastrophe.
But the TPS designation is subject to U.S. government review and can only be extended for up to 18 months. As it stands now, TPS protections for Salvadorans will expire on Sept. 9, 2019. After that time, their immigration status will revert to whatever it was before TPS was granted, so if the person was in the country illegally they would be eligible for deportation.
President Trump tried to end this program, but in October, a federal judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked the administration's efforts to terminate it.
When his mother was killed in El Salvador by gangs, emotions overwhelmed him and Melgarejo said Francisco missed the deadline to update his TPS status.
So when the agents came to his door the following day earlier this month, Melgarejo said Francisco's original 1998 deportation order became valid again. He was taken into custody that day and moved to Yuba City.
Francisco has retained attorney Andrew Taylor of the International Institute of the Bay Area, funded for free through the San Mateo County Removal Defense Collaborative. Taylor filed court papers on Francisco's behalf Thursday, arguing that his client should at least be able to wait for his immigration status to be resolved at home with his family, instead of in a detention facility, two hours from home.