On the day of his prom, Diego Ismael Puma Macancela didn’t worry about the art of folding a tie or about whether his suit was lint-free. He hid in a closet, hoping that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents wouldn’t detain him, as they did his mother the day before. The 19-year-old high school student, who lives in Ossining, New York, spent the night at his relatives’ house, and ICE had arrived at their door, ready to take him away. The agents called Diego’s cousin, Gabriela Macancela, and her father on their phones and said they’d bust down the doors if the student didn’t turn himself in.
Worried that immigration officials would take away his undocumented family as well, Diego turned himself in days before he was set to participate in his high school graduation this weekend. Now, his lawyers, activists, and New York politicians are working to get him freed so he can complete his studies.
According to the The Washington Post, Diego is supposed to finish high school – where he formed part of the auto mechanics program – in August, but the district was allowing him to walk at this Saturday’s commencement ceremony. On top of attending school, Puma – who arrived from Ecuador – also worked at McDonald’s and a pizzeria. Gabriela states that if he goes back to Ecuador, “he’s never going to be able to find jobs.”
Puma is part of a growing number of undocumented immigrants without criminal records that ICE is targeting. On June 25, President Donald Trump signed two executive immigration orders, which gave immigration officials permission to go after a bigger portion of the undocumented community – including those who hadn’t committed crimes. As this community lives in fear, Thomas D. Homan – the acting director of ICE – seemingly revels in their pain. “If you’re in this country illegally, and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable,” he told the Washington Post. “You should look over your shoulder.”
The student is currently at a detention facility in New Jersey, away from his mother who is at the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen, New York. (He’s supposed to be moved to join his mom.) Immigration officials stopped him and his brother at the border near Laredo, Texas before releasing them. As they awaited the results of the asylum cases, ICE tracked them through GPS monitoring technology. They lost their cases in November 2016 and were ordered to leave. They didn’t appeal their cases because they could no longer afford legal representation.
As those who know him best and others who are fighting against deportation come together by calling their representatives and signing an online petition for him, his lawyers filed a stay of removal. They’re requesting that authorities allow him to stay in the country one more year so that he can finish high school and become certified as an auto mechanic. In a letter, Rep. Nita M. Lowey requested that Diego be allowed to stay in the country. She wrote, “Diego has significant ties to his community, has continuously lived in the United States since he was a minor, and genuinely fears for his safety and well-being if returned to Ecuador.”
Meanwhile, his father, says he feels “broken.” He said, “We came to this country not to harm anyone, but to work and to educate my kids.”