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Construction worker detained by ICE on Travis Air Force base may be released for Thanksgiving

Travis Air Force Base (Air Force/Staff Sgt. Matt McGovern)

An undocumented construction worker detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in May while reporting to a project on the Travis Air Force base will be released in time for Thanksgiving, a relief to Bay Area supporters who have rallied to his cause.

A San Francisco judge on Tuesday ordered that Hugo Mejia, a 37-year-old father-of-three from San Rafael, be released on bond as his case makes its way through immigration court, according to activists.

It’s a significant victory for the Mexican immigrant, who had been previously placed in expedited deportation proceedings without a court hearing — known formally as “reinstatement” — because he had an old removal order from more than a decade ago. A second construction worker detained on the base with Mejia, Rodrigo Nuñez, of Hayward, was deported in August.

As she made her way to the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove where her husband was detained, Yadira Munguia said she was overcome with emotion and nervousness.

“I still can’t believe it,” she said Tuesday. “I’m not going to believe it until I see him in front of me.”

“There wasn’t a day that he wasn’t on my mind,” she added. “I think this is the first night I’ll be able to sleep peacefully.”

Several organizations that have championed Mejia’s cause marked the court order with a joint statement.

“This victory is due to the courage of Hugo and his family and the solidarity of supporters from coast to coast,” Centro Legal de la Raza, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the California Immigrant Policy Center, among others, said in the statement. “We are overjoyed that Hugo, his wife, and their three children will be reunited in time for Thanksgiving.”

“Hugo is a beloved part of his family, his community, and his union, and his story reminds us that we are all in this together. The fight to free Hugo is part of a larger fight to build a better world for all.”

The family paid Mejia’s bond Tuesday, according to activists and the family, but it’s unclear when exactly he’ll be released. An ICE spokesman said Mejia remained in their custody as of the late afternoon and deferred further questions to the Department of Justice.

Mejia and Nuñez gained widespread support from their communities and from people across the Bay Area and beyond after they were detained, including faith leaders and neighbors, members of Congress and colleagues from the men’s painters union in New York City. They were described as star employees at S&R Drywall, and were involved in their children’s school activities and at their local parishes.

It’s unclear why Mejia’s story had a different outcome than Nuñez’s — neither of the men had criminal records, according to attorneys with Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, who have assisted both men with their cases.

Mejia’s attorney, Lisa Knox, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

“This is a testament to the power of solidarity and seeing union members, faith leaders, neighbors, teachers all coming together to recognize that immigrants like Hugo are really part of the heart and soul of our community,” said Jon Rodney, spokesman for the California Immigrant Policy Center in Oakland.

“We know that there are so many other people like Hugo who are still imprisoned in these cruel detention centers and so we’re going to keep fighting.”

Mejia and Nuñez — both undocumented immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico who have been in the United States for more than a decade — were detained on the base on May 3 after a military official discovered they did not have valid social security numbers during a routine identification screening and reported them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“The first thing that came to my mind was why me?” Mejia said in Spanish during a phone interview with this news organization from the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in May.

“I’ve been here for 17 years and my record is excellent. I’ve never done anything to anyone. My bills are paid on time, I have a clean record, we’ve never asked the government for help.”

Mejia and his wife, Yadira, have three young children. His older two children are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the youngest is a U.S. citizen.

Munguia said she doesn’t have a clue what the family will do for Thanksgiving, but that her husband has plans for when he’s released.

“He said that if there’s a church nearby he wants to go inside to give thanks to God,” she said. “And then he wants to have a good meal.”


© 2017 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.