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Ypsilanti man gets 2nd chance to fight deportation

Jose Valle-Rodriguez and his two-year-old son.
C/O Karina Valle
Jose Ricardo Valle Rodriguez and his son

On Tuesday, US Immigration Judge Jennifer M. Gorland ruled to reopened Jose Valle-Rodrgiuez’s immigration case, giving the Ypsilanti man a second chance to fight his deportation back to El Salvador. His father-in-law was murdered by gangs in that country, the family says, and they fear Valle-Rodriguez would also become a target.  

When Valle-Rodriguez was seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents last month, both his family and his attorney worried he’d be deported within days. They say they only recently learned that a judge had ordered his removal from the US back in 2005, after he failed to show for an immigration hearing.

But Valle-Rodriguez never got a notice to appear for that hearing, his lawyer says: the courts apparently mixed up his zip code, and the postal service returned the notice marked “return to sender” and “addressee unknown.”

His attorney, Brad Thomson, says he was able to get copies of those returned notices through a Freedom of Information Act request. And those documents convinced Judge Gorland there’s enough evidence to reopen the case.

For Valle-Rodrgiquez’s wife, Karina Cruz-Valle, that news came as a relief.

“Yesterday I was getting some food [when I got the call] and I ended up not even eating, because I was so excited,” she says. “When [Thomson] was calling me, like, ‘I have all the documents in hand,’ I couldn’t even pay the guy [at the restaurant,] I was so excited.”

Cruz-Valle is currently in the process of becoming a naturalized US citizen. When her husband called later that day from Calhoun County Jail, she says he let out a “deep breath of relief.”

“He’s like 'Oh my god, now I can be with my son?' And I’m like, we still have to go through all this paperwork and it’s gonna be a long process.... It overwhelms me. But right now I’m so happy that it’s happened. He’s very excited, he said he was gonna finally sleep in peace for the first time.”

Thomson says the next step is to request a bond hearing to argue for Valle-Rodriguez’s release while his case plays out in court. 

Update Tuesday May 30th, 5:15 pm

When Karina Valle learned her husband was still being detained in the US on Tuesday morning, and not on a plane back to El Salvador, it was an enormous relief.

"I was a feeling a knot in my stomach up until the ICE officer said 'He's still in Battle Creek [where he's being detained,]'' she says via text. "My soul came back into my body." 

Moments before, Valle had raced with attorney Brad Thomson to file evidence they say proves her husband's deportation order is invalid: post office copies of a hearing notice that are marked "returned to sender," which they hope will convince a judge to reopen Valle Rodriguez's case. 

Thomson says the government has 10 days to respond, at which point a judge will decide whether or not to reopen the case. And he credits immigrations officials for keeping Valle Rodriguez in the US, for now. 

"This case is different...in that ICE chose to utilize their discretion not to deport Jose, until we formally turned in this application," Thomson says. "So today I'm really happy with the Director of ICE, I'm happy with ICE, and I have no complaints at least for the next five minutes," he laughed.

A spokeperson with ICE in Detroit referred media questions to the Executive Office for Immigration Review at the US Department of Justice. 

UPDATE Tuesday, May 30 2017 at 10:20 am 

Immigration attorney Brad Thomson says he was able to file an application to reopen Jose Ricardo Valle Rodriguez's immigration case first thing on Tuesday morning. The minute Thomson got the court's time stamp, he says, an automatic stay of removal was granted temporarily.

That means the US government cannot legally deport Valle Rodriguez at this time, though that could change quickly, depending on whether the case is reopened. 

But it looks like it's enough to at least keep Valle Rodriguez in the country today, Tuesday, a day Thomson says is common for Michigan ICE to deport those in custody. 

"I called the [Battle Creek facility where Valle Rodriguez is being detained,] and they confirmed that he's still there," Thomson says.

Valle Rodriguez's wife, Karina Valle, did not immediately respond to request for comment. We're reaching out to ICE again this morning for confirmation. A spokesperson for the Detroit ICE post didn't respond yesterday because of the holiday. 

Original post from Monday, May 29 2017

Jose Ricardo Valle Rodriguez and his wife, Karina Valle, were running an errand Wednesday morning when they noticed the black SUV following them through their neighborhood. Their two-year-old son was in the back seat.  

“I didn’t think nothing of it, because where it was [in our neighborhood] that’s where they drop kids off for the bus,” Karina Valle says. Then the truck put its lights on.

Valle, assuming it was the police, says she pulled off a busy road into the parking lot of the sheriff’s office. Suddenly, she says, several more unmarked cars pulled in, blocking the exit. “And I instantly knew, this is not the police. This has to be ICE.

“I said to my husband, ‘I think this is immigration.’ And he just quickly looked at his son. And got so worried.”

Credit C/O Karina Valle
Jose Ricardo Valle Rodriguez and his wife, Karina

A court’s mistake, lawyer says, led to deportation order

Valle Rodriguez, 31, came to the US from El Salvador when he was 17. He didn’t have a visa.  

Back in 2005, he was in contact with an immigration court. But when that court entered his information into its system, they used the wrong zip code. That’s according to Brad Thomson, the immigration attorney hired by Valle Rodriguez’s family.  

“As a result, he never received a hearing notice,” Thomson says. “When he didn’t show up to the court hearing, he was ordered deported. Now at the time, immigration didn’t pick him up in 2005. It wasn’t until now that they picked him up.”

Thomson says he’s got documents showing the hearing notices were returned to the court as undeliverable, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request. That makes him cautiously optimistic, he says, because he’s won a case in the past when the same zip code error occurred.

But they’re running out of time.   

“Here in Michigan, I would say Tuesday is the most common day of the week that clients who are detained in jail, get deported back to their country,” says Thomson. Valle Rodriguez is currently being held in Battle Creek.

“In order to prevent deportation, there’s an automatic stay of removal granted, as soon as I have his application to reopen his court case…timed stamped by the court,” Thomson says.

So Tuesday morning, he’ll be at court the moment it opens.

With family murdered in El Salvador, a fear of more gang violence

Meanwhile his wife, Karina Valle, is terrified Valle Rodriguez will be sent back to El Salvador.

“His parents have sent a letter saying they can’t receive him, because they’re scared for his life,” she says. “They can torture and kill him. They can torture his family. My father was already murdered by gangs [in El Salvador.] Cousins of my mother have been kidnapped and killed. We’re really close to the violence. That’s my biggest fear, of him going and being killed.”

She says she went to visit her husband in detention on Friday.

Credit C/O Karina Valle
Valle Rodriguez with his wife and son

“He really couldn’t look me straight in the eye, because he was pretty upset. I’ve never been through this before, I really thought I was going to see him face to face or something,” she says. “It was like he was some serious criminal behind the glass and I had to talk to him like that.

“I was considering bringing my son, but in those conditions, I can’t let him see his dad. I can’t take him to him, and him not being able to touch his dad.

Their son, meanwhile, keeps asking about his dad.

“I know he’s little, but I can’t keep lying to him, telling him that he’s working,” Valle says. 

A spokesperson for ICE in Detroit did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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