Undocumented Fallbrook resident detained by ICE, released after he applies for DACA status

Mario Figueroa Martinez attends a celebration for his release from detention, along with his wife Celeste Figueroa and daughter Adalyn, at Jackie Heyneman Park in Fallbrook July 22. Julie Reeder photo
Mario Figueroa Martinez attends a celebration for his release from detention, along with his wife Celeste Figueroa and daughter Adalyn, at Jackie Heyneman Park in Fallbrook July 22. Julie Reeder photo

A 22-year-old Fallbrook resident who was picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was released Friday, July 21, after his attorney filed paperwork for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status.

What would have been a protest in Fallbrook to demand for his release was turned into a celebration July 26 after Mario Otoniel Figueroa Martinez was let go.

Martinez was brought to the United States at the age of 4 from Guatemala. According to a statement released by Martinez’s attorney, Leah Chavarria, Martinez knows nothing of Guatemala as his family fled out of fear for their lives.

His family applied for asylum in approximately 2001. However, they were ordered removed after losing their asylum case because of an alleged attorney’s mistake in 2011. Martinez was 16 at the time, and was required to live with his older brother.

While still in high school, Martinez hired a now-disbarred attorney to file his first DACA petition. The attorney absconded with his money and paperwork. Martinez graduated from Ivy High School in 2014, and married a U.S. citizen. He is a father to their 10-month-old daughter.

This year, Martinez hired Hurwitz Holt, APLC/Leah Chavarria to file I-130 petition (petition by his wife, who is a U.S. citizen), DACA and a later motion to reopen removal proceedings in May. The goal was to have proceedings terminated based on approved I-130 petition, and he was still working on finalizing paperwork and paying government filing fees (over $1,030) until July 11.

On July 11, Martinez was a passenger in a car driving to a job site in Temecula when a border patrol vehicle drove up next to the car. According to Martinez’s legal statement, the border patrol signaled for the car to stop and Martinez was detained.

Martinez was not eligible to see an immigration judge because of his prior removal order from when he was a minor. According to his legal statement, Martinez is a taxpayer and has no criminal record.

“They were accusing me of being a fugitive from ICE because I skipped an appointment with a judge,” said Martinez. “[That appointment] was in 2010, when my dad was deported and I was 16. My mom was in Guatemala. I never got a phone call.”

“When I first found out that Mario was being taken, it was hard,” said Celeste Figueroa, Martinez’s wife. “I didn’t expect it. It could have happened at any other time, but it happened at this time. It honestly made me stronger for me and for my daughter. I didn’t think this could ever happen. I love Mario, and would have done anything for him.”

On July 15, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received Martinez’s DACA application and July 19, his I-130 petition was received. On July 19, Martinez went public with his story, including presenting his story at a news conference with Alliance San Diego and starting a petition, which received over 1,500 signatures on it.

“Mario went public with his case for two reasons: first, he hopes more than anything the Department of Homeland Services (DHS) will see that his deportation does not serve the greater good and he should be released because he is DACA-eligible with a pending application and his family needs him,” said Chavarria at the rally. “Second, he wants to help others not have to face what he is facing. With that, please seek legal consultation with a trusted attorney. Alliance San Diego has a list of trusted attorneys.”

Congressman Duncan Hunter inquired with the Department of Homeland Security on Martinez’s case July 20 and was told the case was being considered by DHS attorneys. Senators Feinstein and Harris also promised to make inquiries on his case.

Martinez was released Friday, July 21, at approximately 9:30 p.m. at the San Ysidro border. This came after consideration from the office of Duncan Hunter.

“Mario will continue to move forward in his process and live a wonderful life in the United States,” said Chavarria.

According to Alliance San Diego, more than 40,000 people in San Diego are eligible for DACA, but only about half of them have already applied. Of those who are screened by Alliance San Diego, 20 percent are eligible for some kind of protection.

Information on the legal screenings is available on www.readynowsandiego.org.


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