Recent Summit County graduate Leon Rivas back in immigrant lockup |

Recent Summit County graduate Leon Rivas back in immigrant lockup

Jaime Leon Rivas, right, gives his mom, Tania, a rose of thanks at the Snowy Peaks High School graduation ceremony Thursday, May 22, at the Frisco Community and Senior Center.
Alli Langley / |

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has once again detained Jaime Leon Rivas.

The plan on Oct. 10 was to drive to the Aurora Detention Facility with his girlfriend, visit a relative who was facing deportation and return to Summit County, specifically to the courthouse in Breckenridge.

Leon Rivas and his girlfriend, Jenny Martinez, planned on getting a marriage license. Martinez said they picked that date because that’s the day they both get their paychecks from the Outlets at Silverthorne, where they work. They planned to throw a celebration for friends and family later.

Plans changed quickly when Leon Rivas was once again placed in handcuffs.

“It was a big surprise because we thought he could stay here for one year,” Martinez said.

Martinez was also present at the Glenwood Springs immigration office on the day Leon Rivas was taken into federal custody earlier this year.

For almost a month this spring, the 19-year-old Summit County resident was held in the immigrant lockup in Aurora. ICE had already set the wheels in motion to deport the Salvadorian immigrant when his teachers and classmates at Snowy Peaks High School in Frisco rallied to help him stay in the country.

His story received statewide attention among media outlets and activist groups. And on April 2, Leon Rivas walked out of the detention facility after a flood of community support and legal filings secured him a stay of removal for one year.

His attorney believed that the effort to document Leon Rivas’ transformation from a troubled youth into a community leader likely influenced the government’s decision to release him.

Staying in the country was still an uphill battle for Leon Rivas, but at least he had a year to fight for it. It also gave him enough time to return to Snowy Peaks and get his diploma in an emotional ceremony in May.

Leon Rivas’ attorney first filed to request deferred action for childhood arrivals, known as DACA. (Leon Rivas came to the U.S. when he was 10.) However, that request was declined in July. The next step in the legal strategy was to build a case for asylum.

Unknown to Leon Rivas, however, was that his stay of removal had also been revoked when the DACA request was turned down. Though the legal details are still unclear, Jenny Martinez said that appears to be why immigration officials decided to detain him this month. (Leon Rivas’ attorney could not be reached for comment.)

“It’s so upsetting,” said Jennifer Wolinetz, a teacher at Snowy Peaks High School. “I felt like all the work we did in the spring was so inspiring. It’s just so depressing what’s happening.”

Leon Rivas 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.

Alex McShiras, an immigration attorney with the Denver-based Chan Law Firm, said back in April that he’d 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.

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.

If the case is made successfully, Leon Rivas could get to stay. He’ll also get nearly $20,000 in legal fees, Martinez said. However, she said Leon Rivas had been diligently working, making monthly $500 payments on his legal debt and staying out of trouble.

“It was worth it because Jaime was going to be here legally and not have to worry about immigration anymore,” she said.

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