At a March 25 vigil outside of the Aurora Detention Facility, protesters held signs that read “Let Jaime Graduate” and “Free Jaime.”
On Wednesday, April 2, they got their wish as Jaime Leon Rivas walked out of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lockup in Aurora, got into his mother’s car and drove back to his Summit County home.
ICE has detained Leon Rivas at the Aurora facility since March 4, when he was handcuffed at a scheduled supervision meeting in Glenwood Springs. However, immigration attorney Alex McShiras announced on Wednesday that a stay of removal order will give Leon Rivas another year of freedom in the U.S. — enough time for the Snowy Peaks High School senior to graduate and make a case that he should be given asylum in the U.S.
Loved ones and supporters were elated at the news.
“I’m still totally stunned,” said Leon Rivas’ teacher at Snowy Peaks. “He gets to stay for a year. It’s great news. He’s going to come back to school and graduate.”
Jenny Martinez had just started her shift at a Silverthorne sandwich shop when she got the call from Leon Rivas’ mother, Tania.
“I just broke out into tears, you know,” Leon Rivas’ girlfriend said. “I feel really speechless. I didn’t expect this. It’s like, wow.”
Leon Rivas, who turned 19 on March 25, immigrated to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. He says that he and his brother, who was then 15, were fleeing gang violence in their home country of El Salvador when they illegally crossed the Rio Grande into Texas back in 2005. Leon Rivas and his brother, Carlos, were detained by ICE officials and led to sign voluntary departure forms.
The brothers didn’t leave. Instead, they drove north to Colorado with an aunt and reconnected with family members.
During his first several years in Summit County, Jaime Leon Rivas struggled. He was a bad student who didn’t get along with his peers or teachers.
Between 2007 and 2011, he was in and out of the juvenile justice system for offenses such as carrying a knife to school, stealing out of open cars and criminal mischief related to a fire set at a bus stop in Summit County.
Friends, family and supporters, however, say his story doesn’t end there.
McShiras, an immigration attorney with the Denver-based Chan Law Firm, said he’s never seen such an outpouring of support for one of his clients. He said that between March 10, when he took the case, and March 21, when he filed a motion requesting a stay of removal, he received more than 98 pages of testimony arguing that Leon Rivas had changed his life for the better.
“Ninety-eight pages is almost unheard of,” he said.
McShiras said that he believes the community effort to document Leon Rivas’ transformation from a troubled youth into a community leader likely influenced the government’s decision to release him.
Leon Rivas’ struggle to stay in the U.S. isn’t over, however, McShiras explained.
Leon Rivas must continue to check in with ICE officials; and McShiras must first get ICE to reopen his client’s case in order to overturn a deportation order from 2007 and then seek asylum.
The crux of the legal argument to keep Leon Rivas in the U.S. is that the country of El Salvador can’t or won’t control gang violence, which claimed the life of Leon Rivas’ grandfather, a shop owner in San Salvador. Leon Rivas has said he is fearful of returning to his home country because of the continuing turmoil there.
Leon Rivas will likely start back at Snowy Peaks High this week to resume his studies.
Graduation is on May 22.