About 40 family members, friends and supporters of local student Jaime Leon Rivas gathered Saturday afternoon on the corner of Main Street and Highway 9 in Frisco.
With temperatures in the low 30s, they held up signs that read “No Human Being Is Illegal.”
Over and over they chanted, “El pueblo unido jamas será vencido/The people united will never be defeated.”
One child’s sign read “I NEED MY DAD.”
Leon Rivas, 19, was released Wednesday, April 2, from the detention facility in Aurora where he was held for a month after he was handcuffed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials March 4 at a scheduled supervision meeting in Glenwood Springs.
Sophia Clark, regional organizer with Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said Saturday’s event was a collaborative effort with the Summit County organization Unidos Por La Igualdad (United for Equality). The rally was one of five in Colorado, and one of more than 50 across the country, planned as part of a national day of action focusing on immigration reform.
“We’re celebrating Jaime’s return and calling attention to the fact that he’s still in deportation proceedings,” she said.
At least four families at the rally have members who have been deported or are facing deportation, she said. Those who spoke at the rally called on President Obama and government officials to stop separating families. About 2 million people have been deported under the Obama administration.
“Two million is too many,” said Jenny Martinez, 21, Leon Rivas’ girlfriend, to the crowd. “This needs to stop.”
Others at the rally drew attention to the plight of children and parents separated from one another.
“That’s all I really want is for them to notice how many families they’re hurting,” Leon Rivas said.
Immigration attorney Alex McShiras said last week that ICE granted Leon Rivas a stay-of-removal, giving him another year in the U.S. — time for the Snowy Peaks High School senior to graduate and make a case for his asylum.
He returned to school Friday.
“Right now I’m just trying to focus on school and save money for college,” Leon Rivas said. His mother, Tania, said he wants to become a chef.
Leon Rivas immigrated to the U.S. as a 10-year-old. He and his brother, then 15, fled gang violence in their home country of El Salvador and illegally crossed the Rio Grande into Texas in 2005. ICE officials stopped the boys and made them sign voluntary departure forms.
But they didn’t leave. Instead, they drove north to Colorado with an aunt and reconnected with family.
In his first 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 like bringing a knife to school, stealing out of open cars and criminal mischief related to a fire set at a bus stop.
Friends, family and allies say his story doesn’t end there.
McShiras, a lawyer with the Denver-based Chan Law Firm, said he’s never seen such support for one of his clients. In the 10 days between when he took on the case and when he filed a motion for 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 the community effort to document Leon Rivas’ transformation likely influenced the government’s decision to release him.
For now, he must check in with ICE officials once a month, and McShiras must get ICE to reopen his client’s case before he can try to overturn a 2007 deportation order and seek asylum.
The legal argument centers on the fact that 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 said he is fearful of returning to his home country because of the continuing turmoil there.
Summit Daily News Managing Editor Ben Trollinger contributed to this report.