A great Thanksgiving for Marin County father released from ICE hold for now

It will be a true "thanksgiving" for a Marin County man, freed after seven months in ICE detention. 

"We will continue, I have faith, everything's going to be okay," Hugo Mejia told KTVU Wednesday evening, optimistic after finally getting a hearing before a sympathetic federal judge.

The judge said she was impressed by the "extraordinary outpouring" of support from Mejia's San Rafael community, where he is active in his church and children's schools. 

Mejia is a drywall supervisor, and in May, went to a work assignment at Travis Air Force Base and never came home. 

He and his co-worker, also undocumented, were detained and turned over to immigration officials. 

At similar jobs, the men had presented their taxpayer ID cards instead of Social Security cards without problem, but this time they were handcuffed and incarcerated.

"Everything changed in one minute, " said Mejia.

His wife and three children were stunned and devastated.

"I am a good guy, not a criminal. My crime was, I just came here illegally," said Mejia. 

A deportation order from 2001 meant Mejia was not owed a hearing. 

Lobbying and legal wrangling followed, until Tuesday afternoon, when a judge decided he was not a flight risk, and allowed Mejia to post $15,000 bond.

Late Tuesday night, he emerged from the facility in Elk Grove, outside Sacramento, and into the arms of his family.  

"It felt amazing," he told KTVU, of the reunion, "it's what I missed all this time, feeling them close to me, it's the most beautiful gift for Thanksgiving."  

As for what he missed while inside?  

"Everything, everything, everything."

Mejia is eager to start working again, and catch up on bills. 

But these first hours have been exhilarating. 

The family stayed awake most of the night just talking.    

"Oh we're very happy, very happy," said wife Yadira Munguia, as her husband pulled her close. 

They still have a legal battle, and overturning Mejia's deportation is a legal longshot, but after their ordeal, the couple is living in the moment. 

"We are here and we are happy," declared Yadira. 

"We always paid taxes and followed the rules," said Hugo, "and I just ask for the opportunity to stay. I am a humble person and hard-working, and I like to help in my community, that's why they know me here."

That community made itself heard with unrelenting pressure over the months, including members of the Bay Area's Congressional delegation weighing in with support. 

San Francisco's Catholic Archbishop was among those who wrote letters praising Mejia as a dedicated family man, who doesn't fit the profile of undocumented felons President Trump vowed to target.   

"Getting bad dudes out of the country were his words," said U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman at a June rally for Mejia in San Rafael.

"But we know otherwise, because Hugo Mejia is, by all accounts, a very very very good dude."   
Mejia says he arrived from Mexico at 20 because he wanted a better future. 

"I want to continue for my kids, for my family, because to us, this is our country," he said. 

The couple marked their 18th wedding anniversary last month, with Hugo locked up.

They have been in the U.S. half their lives, and never more grateful.    

"It's amazing, to live here is amazing," said Yadira. 

Wednesday evening, the family made a quick trip to the mall, where they held hands,  ebullient about being together. 

"We're looking forward to watching a movie and eating dinner together," said daughter Mirna Mejia, 16.

"Ever since he got home, it's been really normal. My little brother and him argue, like always, over little petty things, so it seems like life's back to normal!" 

Mejia's drywall partner, also detained, was a married man from Hayward with no criminal record.

He gave up his fight and was deported to Mexico a few months ago, taking his young family with him. 

Hugo Mejia is seeking legal asylum, while also challenging the circumstances of his detainment at Travis AFB.

But for now, he's simply relieved to be out of a cell, and free. 

"To breathe fresh air, to be out is something beautiful," said Mejia, "to see the stars, the moon, the grass, on this day of Thanksgiving, thank you everybody."