Rep. Al Green champions Houston DACA recipient stuck in Mexico


WASHINGTON — When Jaime Avalos left Houston for an immigration interview in Mexico, he thought he was on the path to becoming a permanent resident of the United States, where he has lived since his parents brought him to the country as a 1-year-old. 

Instead, Avalos has been stuck in Juárez for three months — and might have to stay there for a decade — after learning that he was barred from re-entering the U.S. for breaking immigration law at the age of 7, when his mother took him back to Mexico to register his birth so he could be adopted by his stepfather.

Aside from that trip, which Avalos said he doesn’t remember, he has lived his entire life in Houston, where he was protected from deportation by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Avalos graduated from Bellaire High School, married a U.S. citizen and has a son who turns 1 next month.

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“I don’t know anything here. I don’t know anybody here,” said Avalos, who has been staying with an uncle since August. “I’m basically a stranger here. It doesn’t feel like home. It’s really hard.”

Now, U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, is pushing to bring Avalos home, arguing that it’s an “injustice” that he would be punished for something he had no control over 21 years ago. 

Green has filed a bill that would allow Avalos to return to the U.S., as well as legislation rewriting the immigration law Avalos broke, which bars immigrants living in the country illegally from returning for a 10-year span if they leave. Green’s bill would create exceptions for children and for violations that are more than 10 years old.

“All of this happened when he was a child. He had no control over what was happening at the time,” Green said. “This is an injustice, and we have to correct it.”

Meanwhile, Avalos’ attorney, Naimeh Salem, has filed for humanitarian parole to allow him to come home sooner. She said she is optimistic he may be able to return before the end of the year. 

Immigration attorneys said Avalos’ exact situation is probably uncommon. Avalos was protected by DACA but forfeited that protection when he left the U.S. without permission, known as advanced parole. He traveled to Juárez in August for an interview with the Mexican consul there, as he sought to obtain permanent U.S. residency.

“If you go back to get a visa, even if you’re eligible to get a visa, you can’t go back for 10 years,” said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney based in Washington, D.C. “He was taking a risk.”

But Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said many immigrant families face similarly difficult situations because of the nation’s immigration laws, which he called “broken.”

“I can say that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that deals with administration of our legal immigration system, receives on almost a weekly basis cases that present tremendous heartbreak and sadness because of how broken our system is,” Mayorkas said during a House Homeland Security hearing during which Green pressed him on Avalos’ case. “Those pleas for mercy come from both sides of the aisle.”

Avalos’ wife and child spent Thanksgiving with him in Mexico, part of a trip organized by Green. It was the first time they had seen each other in months.

“My baby having to be apart from his father, and just having to get used to our new reality has been really hard and really stressful in our situation, not only financially but emotionally — it’s taken a toll,” said Yarianna Avalos. “This isn’t home to him. Home to him is Houston, Texas. He was raised there.”

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