One of the Victims of the Tragic San Antonio Smuggling Case Was a Guatemalan DREAMer Trying to Get Back Home

Lead Photo: A man stands next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friends of Friendship Park on February 4, 2017 in San Ysidro, California. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News
A man stands next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friends of Friendship Park on February 4, 2017 in San Ysidro, California. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News
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As more details about the tractor-trailer transporting 39 undocumented immigrants come to light, the story becomes increasingly more heartbreaking. On Sunday morning, authorities discovered eight bodies in a poorly ventilated vehicle in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio. 30 were taken to hospitals, with 20 of them said to be in “extremely severe” or critical condition, according to The New York Times. Since then, two more have died and more information about the victims have been revealed. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that one of the undocumented immigrants who died in the tractor-trailer was Guatemala-born Frank G. Fuentes, a 19-year-old, who at one point was protected from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Fuentes arrived in the United States just before he turned 3 years old. He grew up in Northern Virginia and reportedly graduated from J.E.B. Stuart High School in Fairfax County in 2015. In March 2017, he was deported to Guatemala. His DACA protection expired on June 5, 2016. He applied to renew it, but, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was “discretionarily denied, based on a number of public safety concerns.”

Fairfax County Circuit Court records show that he pled guilty to grand larceny/pickpocketing and simple assault and battery by a mob. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) suspected that Fuentes belonged to the Mara Salvatruchas (MS-13), the infamous international street gang that sprung up in the United States. Those who know him, however, paint a different picture of the teen.

“Growing up where we grew up, it was just easier for the government to label him as a statistic and say that he was affiliated with a gang,” said Juan Benítez, who grew up and attended Northern Virginia Community College with Fuentes. “Growing up in a rough neighborhood we stayed away from people like that. It was the only way to be safe.”

Another classmate, Kelly Barrios-Mazariegos, described him as a someone who brought “positivity to so many people.” She spoke to him last on Snapchat a month ago, and learned that he was struggling to adjust to life in Guatemala. “He’s been [in the US] forever,” she said. “He doesn’t know what Guatemala was. His home is here, his friends are here, his family is here.”

Months after his deportation, Fuentes snuck back into the border, hoping to return to the only place he called home. A 17-year-old and a 23-year-old who were on the truck told authorities that the immigrants boarded the tractor-trailer in Laredo, Texas. The Guatemalan government said Fuentes died of “heat exposure and asphyxiation.”

A few months ago, the Department of Homeland Security informed VOA that it has deported 43 DACA recipients since Trump took office. At least 676 DACA recipients are in removal proceedings and 90 are detained. We reached out to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and CBP and couldn’t get any further clarification about the DACA recipients’ status.

A detention hearing for 60-year-old truck driver James Matthew Bradley Jr. – who was charged with smuggling immigrants – was canceled, according to ABC. As this case continues to play out, people on both sides of the immigration debate have used this tragic event to support their vision for immigration reform.