Jose Alvarez looks through the border fence into the United States, the country that he was deported from earlier this year. Photo Courtesy of Andrea Donado
After an emotional night of testimony from the community and the Jose Alvarez family, the Long Beach City Council voted last night in support of a resolution pushing for humanitarian parole from the United States Department of Homeland Security for the Long Beach man deported earlier this year after a routine traffic stop.
Alvarez was taken into custody in late February after being stopped by a Cal State Long Beach police officer for a broken tail light, but when a 21-year-old drug offense showed up in his history, he was held and referred to Immigration and Customs (ICE) before being deported—without his family being notified.
Since then, Alvarez has been separated from his wife and six children, all of whom were born in the United States, one that is a veteran. Alvarez’s wife was not present at the meeting, as she remained hospitalized in San Diego awaiting surgery following her involvement in a vehicle collision.
The resolution asks the federal government to grant humanitarian parole to Alvarez so he can return home to his family.
“When else is a husband important to his wife, if not at time of medical need?” said Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga, one of the co-authors of the item. “This case goes beyond immigration; this case now truly becomes a humanitarian case.”
Uranga has been very involved in the Alvarez case and has even gone to the United States-Mexico border, where he met and spoke with Alvarez through the fence at Friendship Park, the same meeting point now utilized by the Alvarez family when they want to see their father. United States Congressman Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, accompanied Uranga on that trip last month and a field representative from his office was on hand at the council meeting to deliver his support.
Irantzu Pujadas said that the congressman was currently in Washington, D.C. and would be joined by the Alvarez family Thursday where they would petition Secretary Jeh Johnson, the director of the Department of Homeland Security for Jose’s return.
“While these convictions must be considered, they are just one factor and should not outweigh the fact that Jose has led an exemplary life as a Long Beach resident and a family man for the last 21 years,” Lowenthal said in his statement. “Policy decisions that involve keeping families together should not be seen as black and white but as one of many factors to be weighed in considering an applicant's petition for parole.”
Since Alvarez’s deportation in February, the university has amended its practices regarding campus police contacts with undocumented immigrants, adding that they may be arrested if there is probable cause that “he or she has violated a state law, local ordinance or a federal law unrelated to immigration laws” or has an outstanding warrant. At the state level, Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced legislation to prevent unnecessary deportations of immigrants charged with misdemeanors.
The council voted 5-3 (Price, Supernaw and Mungo dissenting) in favor of the resolution. If granted, humanitarian parole would allow for Alvarez to return to the United States for up to one year or as long as the humanitarian need dictates with the ability to re-apply.
Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price said that while she didn’t personally object to the idea,t the letter of law under which a person would qualify for humanitarian parole would not be met in the case of Alvarez.
Instead of drafting case-specific policies, one that she noted thousands of families have endured, she pushed for the council to amend its aim and instead draft a resolution asking for the law itself to be changed to allow for cases like Alvarez’s to be recognized under it. The law currently allows for this type of parole to be granted for medical emergencies provided that documentation is supplied showing why the procedure can only be obtained in the US, how it will be paid for and how travel back to the person’s home country will also be funded.
For Alvarez, the only statute he could possibly meet is the public benefit clause, something that Price said she doubted the federal government would see separate and apart from the situations that thousands of other immigrant families have faced over the years. The vote was largely symbolic but the council will take up a much broader immigration reform item in the coming weeks one that could include targeting instances like the one the Alvarez's are experiencing.
“What I don’t like to do is give people a sense of false hope,” Price said. “Because it feels really great in the council chamber when we vote on something and we get the applause but we know as council members, or we might know or have a sense that what we’re voting on is actually something that we have no power over. We recently voted on an issue like that and I don’t know how we turn around and speak with that community because they left here with a sense of hope.”
The issue of immigration and the fear around deportations has been heightened by last Tuesday’s presidential election that saw Donald Trump become president-elect, leaving many wondering if he’ll deliver on his promises to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States. While Trump has already showed signs of wavering on his pledge to build a wall and has dropped talks of an immigration force, many in the immigrant population have been left to ponder how much longer they have left in the country.
Many in the audience who came to support the Alvarez family and to urge the council to support the effort to bring back Jose Alvarez, also said they wanted to be ensured the council “had their back” when it came to deportation policy.
Mayor Robert Garcia, an immigrant himself, doubled down on the city’s pledge to support immigrants regardless of their immigration status. Calling it a non-partisan issue, Garcia joined what has now become a wave of local officials and entities rebuking the incoming president’s rhetoric, instead pledging to continue supporting their local immigrant populations.
“Long Beach has and will always continue to be, regardless of what happens at the federal level, supportive of immigrants,” Garcia said. “Those that are documented, those in the process of getting citizenship, those that are students…that entire community. As an immigrant myself who wasn’t born in this country, I always say the best day of my life was the day I was given the opportunity to become an American.”
Hope was not lost on the Alvarez family, however. Jose Alvarez’s oldest daughter, Susanna, said while she feared for her family and other immigrant families’ futures because the “deportation machine has no regard for human life,”their upcoming visit to the nation’s Capitol with Congressman Lowenthal had left them hopeful that their father could finally return home.
“Today my tears won’t be of sadness, they will be of hope,” Alvarez said. “I hope and have faith as we approach President Obama. We will plead and urge him to bring back Jose. I want my father back and President Obama has the authority to approve his request to come back.”