A man “tricked” by ICE in Denver is front-and-center for immigration advocates

“I thought that I could leave the room with a peace of mind.” She discovered minutes later that her father had been detained. She described it as a trick.

Melecio Andazola Morales with his family. (Courtesy Andazola Morales family)
Melecio Andazola Morales with his family. (Courtesy Andazola Morales family)
Melecio Andazola Morales with his family. (Courtesy Andazola Morales family)

A rally tonight in Aurora will call for the release of Melecio Andazola Morales, an unauthorized immigrant who was detained last week just as he hoped to become a legal permanent resident.

His daughter, Viviana Andazola-Marquez, said that she flew home from her senior year at Yale University for what she thought would be the last step in the process.

“Everything seemed to have been going well,” she said at a news conference. An interviewer ran through a list of seemingly standard questions.

“Before I was asked to exit the room, the immigrant official said, ‘Your dad has been recommended for approval’ … I thought that I could leave the room with a peace of mind.”

Instead, she discovered minutes later that her father had been detained. She described it as a trick. Her lawyer, Hans Meyer, said it was akin to a “bait and switch.”

The case has quickly gained attention, with a fundraiser collecting more than $66,000 in four days. About 50 people planned to hold a vigil outside the GEO private detention facility in Aurora at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Melecio Andazola Morales with his daughter, Viviana Andazola-Marquez. (Courtesy the family)
Melecio Andazola Morales with his daughter, Viviana Andazola-Marquez. (Courtesy the family)

Andazola Morales’ attorney, Hans Meyer, argued that it would be destructive and pointless to force him from the country. Andazola Morales has lived in Colorado since 1998 and doesn’t have a criminal record, Meyer said.

His four children are U.S. citizens and his mother is a legal resident, according to Meyer. He is a full-time caretaker both for his 2-year-old daughter, who has epilepsy, and for his mother, Meyer said.

“Melecio’s been here probably longer than half of the people in the state. He’s also helped build some of the major infrastructure in Colorado,” Meyer said, referring to the man’s work in construction.

Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed that Andazola Morales was arrested by ICE agents at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on Oct. 12.

He noted in a statement that Andazola Morales “was previously deported from the United States in March 1997.”

Meyer said that Andazola Morales had been denied entry to the U.S. at the border through an “order of exclusion.” Essentially, he was caught while trying to cross the border and ejected, Meyer said.

Andazola Morales later returned and entered the country without authorization in 1998. He applied for permanent residency in 2001 through his brother, a citizen. The waitlist for that status is nearly 20 years, Meyer said.

Andazola Morales was finally able to have his request heard this year because his U.S. citizen daughter turned 21, which allowed them to file a higher-priority case. The interview last week would have been the final stage in winning legal status for the man.

However, Meyer said, it appears that a previous lawyer for the man was not aware of the previous deportation.

Returning to the country without authorization after being removed has long made people a higher priority for deportation, including under President Barack Obama, but Meyer believed that the focus on these cases has increased under President Donald Trump.

Melecio Andazola Morales. (Courtesy the family)
Melecio Andazola Morales. (Courtesy the family)

Now, Meyer wants more time to work.

“Allow us as his legal team to research exactly what happened back in 1997,” he said, adding that his firm has only been on the case for a few days.

For her part, Viviana Andazola-Marquez said she is taking time away from her senior-year studies at Yale to fight the case, and she’s preparing for the possibility that she and her family will have to make sacrifices if they lose the presence and support of her father.

“I definitely feel deceived. My dad did right by the law,” she said. “He did everything in his power to obtain lawful status, and he was tricked and brought into the office and detained for trying to do the right thing.”

Andazola-Marquez has a high profile already. Her college admission essay was featured in The New York Times.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.