A 22-year-old North Hollywood resident and beneficiary of the Obama administration's immigration relief program was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents near the Southern California border earlier this month on suspicion of attempting to smuggle someone into the country illegally.
Border Patrol officials said Jesus Alonso Arreola Robles and a 17-year-old boy were stopped in a vehicle Feb. 12 on Highway 94 in Campo, Calif., about a mile from the border with Mexico. Arreola Robles was driving, they said.
Officials said he was processed for removal proceedings and is being held in a detention facility in Folkston, Ga. They would not comment further about the teenager detained with Arreola Robles.
Arreola Robles' attorney, mother and girlfriend spoke Thursday morning during a news conference at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles office in central L.A. The attorney, Joseph Porta, said he had been unable to speak to Arreola Robles or an ICE representative and that Arreola Robles' name was not showing up in the online detainee locator system.
Porta said it's worrisome that a detainee would not show up in the system 11 days after being detained.
"That's something I haven't seen in my entire career," he said.
Many questions surrounding Arreola Robles' apprehension and detention remained unanswered until after the news conference, when Border Patrol released a statement to reporters.
"ICE once again dragged its feet and kept Jesus from speaking with his attorney until pressured by the family and the media to do so," said CHIRLA Executive Director Angelica Salas.
Porta said he had heard "allegations that something happened" leading to Arreola Robles' detention but wouldn't comment further until he could clarify the circumstances with his client. Porta said Arreola Robles was transferred from a detention facility in San Diego to one in Arizona and then to the facility in Georgia.
The Border Patrol said Arreola Robles was transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Feb. 15. Officials said ICE routinely transfers detainees to different detention facilities "based on available resources and the needs of the agency."
Porta said that Arreola Robles' case was one of the first ones he processed in 2012 for President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, and that he has since renewed it twice. The executive action provides work permits and halts the deportation of people who were brought to the United States as children and remained illegally. Beneficiaries must meet certain requirements, including having never been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors, and not pose a threat to public safety or national security.
More than 861,000 immigrants have received protection under the program. Roughly 1 in 4 lives in California. According to Border Patrol, about 1,500 DACA recipients have been terminated from the program because of a criminal conviction or gang affiliation.
Porta said Arreola Robles has no criminal history and that the worst thing on his record was a speeding ticket.
Rosa Robles said she brought her son into the country illegally from Mexico when he was a toddler. She and her husband have been legal residents for about three years, and his siblings are U.S. citizens.
His mother described Arreola Robles as a good person who graduated from high school and spent some time in college. She said he has worked alongside his father as a cook in a hotel for the last five years.
Robles said her son has called every day or two but that they can only speak for five minutes each time. She said he has told her when he has been moved to a new city, but never knows where he is exactly.
She said she feels desperate to get him released from detention.
Robles said she didn't know what he was doing at the border.
Crystal Alvarado, Arreola Robles' girlfriend of four years, said he has a big heart and lives for his family.
She said the few times she has spoken with him, "He tells me take care of his sisters and not to worry, but I know he's scared."
Porta said he plans to file documents requesting that Arreola Robles be released on bond until his hearing before an immigration judge. The judge will decide whether he has a legal basis to remain in the U.S.
At least two other DACA recipients around the country have recently been taken into custody by immigration officials. Daniel Ramirez Medina, a Mexico-born 23-year-old, was arrested in Seattle early this month by ICE agents looking for his father. ICE officials said he was a "self-admitted gang member," which his attorneys vehemently denied, saying he was pressured to falsely admit affiliation.
Last week, Josue Romero, a 19-year-old arts student in San Antonio, was arrested on suspicion of possessing a small amount of marijuana and detained by ICE agents. He was released two days later, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
3:50 p.m.: This article has been updated with comments by Rosa Robles and Crystal Alvarado, as well as information about other DACA recipients who were taken into custody.