Instead of celebrating Mexican Mother’s Day on Monday May 10, dozens gathered for a press conference and protest outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Field Office in Chicago at 101 W. Ida B. Wells Drive to demand that Octaviano Ortiz, a long-time Cicero resident and family man, not be deported. Advocates are requesting that the agency grants prosecutorial discretion so that Ortiz can remain in Illinois with his family. He has been ordered to leave the U.S. on May 23 but appealed the decision.
Ortiz, forty-one, is a father to four U.S. citizen children and cares for them along with his partner Martha. Under U.S. immigration law, prosecutorial discretion refers to the power that U.S. immigration agencies such as ICE have to determine the outcome of an immigration case. It allows agencies to decide what charges to bring and how to pursue each case. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) could toss out his case because he is not a priority for deportation. But according to Karina Solano, the deportation defense coordinator at Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD), the BIA said “the impact [of deporting him] wouldn’t be extraordinary.”
In 2010, Ortiz was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, a charge that, according to advocates, was upgraded to “aggravated” because he did not have a driver’s license. He was initially placed in removal proceedings in 2010 and was released on an Order of Recognizance, a type of order which releases an individual who is awaiting a final decision in deportation proceedings under certain conditions. During this time, advocates said he complied with all his court hearings and enrolled in a substance abuse program, per his probation terms. In 2018, he applied for cancellation of removal with the BIA but was denied the opportunity to stay.
Solano has assisted Ortiz in filing his case. She added that new immigration enforcement guidelines do not make Ortiz a priority for deportation.
She said there are also plenty of mitigating factors that do not make Ortiz a priority for deportation such as that he is the sole provider for his four U.S. citizen children, Andrea (age fourteen), Alexandra (eleven), Ismael (seven) and Giovanni (two) and his partner.
Additionally, Solano said the two-year-old needs constant medical care due to premature birth at five months. “[The child] needs to be seeing therapists about four times a week and it’s crucial for his development. Ortiz has also lived in the U.S. for twenty-three years and has never left the country.”
Solano said Ortiz filed what is known as an application for stay, along with the mitigation documents, a filing fee of $155 and a petition with over 700 signatures from community members and supporters that OCAD collected. She was ready to deliver his application in person to the Chicago field office the day of the press conference, but the office was closed. No one was given advance notice. Solano said someone in the crowd told her the power was out and people who previously made appointments were sent back home by staff.
In 2010, when Ortiz was arrested, the Illinois Way Forward Act was not yet in place, and made it feasible for police and immigration to work together when detaining people who are undocumented. It became effective in January 2021, dramatically restricting the way local law enforcement cooperates with ICE. Additionally, the Iaw banned immigration detention in Illinois.
Solano said that when Ortiz was taken by police in 2010, the police staff kept a list of people who were undocumented. “I don’t remember if it was an ID or social security number…but [Ortiz] said that they would write down everybody that [they suspected] was not a U.S. citizen,” she said.
At the protest, community advocates and families held signs that read, “Sin papeles sin miedo,” (Without papers without fear) and “Humans don’t belong in cages.” People chanted “undocumented and unfraid” and “Chinga la migra” (Fuck ICE).
There, Ortiz said it would be difficult for his family if he was deported. “My wife would have to work and my baby would not have the care they have now,” he said. “My whole life is here. My children are here, my job is here, and I recently bought a house in Cicero, Illinois. If I were to leave and my children came with me, they would lose everything. It would interrupt their education and they would lose the opportunities that the U.S. has to offer them.”
Cesar Elizarraraz, a Mexico-born, longtime suburban resident who had been in ICE custody and detained at the McHenry County Jail since December 2019, spoke at the press conference. Elizarraz was detained by ICE for over twenty-one months at the McHenry County detention center and was released in June of 2021.
“We need the Biden administration to deliver on the promises they made for fundamental due process and justice,” he said. “Under this administration, ICE is still arbitrarily punishing people, and a system like that benefits no one and only endangers communities and families, leaving them broken, hopeless and vulnerable.”
“We need the Biden Administration to be accountable to the promises they made regarding a more just and humane immigration process,” said Natalie Casal Alcaino, an organizer with OCAD. “As long as field officers like Sylvie Randa maintain their position, it will always be up to their discretion to deny people like Octaviano.”
Randa is the field director of the ICE office in Chicago who has the power to grant Ortiz prosecutorial discretion. The day after the rally, Ortiz and Solano submitted his application to stay. Solano said an immigration officer stated it would take “a few weeks” for a decision.
“That’s too long for Octaviano,” Solano said. “So we are working on uplifting his request through congressional support.” Solano said OCAD has received the support of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Congressman “Chuy” Garcia, who both sent letters to ICE to inquire about Ortiz’ case. State Rep. Lisa Hernandez’ office said they would also be providing a letter.
On May 23, the day Ortiz was ordered to leave, he refiled his application on the grounds that his previous application did not include important mitigating information about his two-year old that needs constant medical attention.
When the Weekly reached out repeatedly to the immigration office in Chicago to inquire about the reason for his application being denied, a spokesperson responded with the following statement:
“Regardless of nationality, ICE makes custody determinations on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with U.S. law and Department of Homeland Security policy, considering the merits and factors of each case while adhering to current agency priorities and guidelines. ICE focuses its civil immigration enforcement priorities on the apprehension and removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to our national security, public safety, and border security.”
When pressed as to why they believe Ortiz is a threat to the country, and on what grounds his application was denied despite federal immigration guidelines that do not make Ortiz a priority for deportation, the spokesperson cited privacy concerns for the delay in providing additional information about his case.
Update, May 31, 2022: This story first published on May 22 and was updated for print in the June 2 issue.
Alma Campos is the Immigration editor at the Weekly. She last wrote about a South Side man who was illegally detained by ICE.