Methow Valley residents rally behind man picked up by ICE

He was brought to the U.S. at age 12. People in this small community are fighting to bring him home.

Francisco Morales

Francisco Morales

By Marcy Stamper / Methow Valley News

The emotional turmoil of the immigration issue engulfed the Methow Valley in North Central Washington after a longtime resident was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection as he was driving his daughter to preschool in Winthrop earlier this month.

Francisco “Frank” Morales was reportedly pulled over to the side of the road on Feb. 5, according to the “Bring Francisco Home” Facebook page set up by his friends and supporters. He was transferred to the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma within two days.

After Morales was stopped that day, he was permitted to call his wife, Brenda Lopez, so she could pick up their daughter, according to Blue Bradley, a family friend who’s helping coordinate support. Morales had already dropped off his son at Methow Valley Elementary School.

Morales, who’s in his early 30s, has lived in the Methow Valley for a dozen years and is well known throughout the area. News of his detention ricocheted around town and through social media within hours of his apprehension.

A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for legal assistance and to help the family make up for the loss of Morales’ income raised $42,630 in under 24 hours, more than twice the goal. There were 544 contributions by the time his supporters put the campaign on hold.

The Barnyard Cinema, a Winthrop movie house, raised another $1,168.50 through an impromptu fundraiser, donating all ticket sales from a noon showing of a surprise movie to the Bring Francisco Home campaign.

“I felt sick to my stomach this morning when I got the news,” Genevieve Cole, co-owner of the Barnyard Cinema, said. “He’s a really involved member of the community. I’m doing this as much to bring people together and to bond as a community.”

Over last weekend, 224 people sent letters of support for Morales, attesting to his character and his social and economic contributions to the community. Those letters have been sent to Congressional representatives Sen. Maria Cantwell, Rep. Dan Newhouse and Gov. Jay Inslee, Bradley said.

Letters of support also came from staff and administrators at Methow Valley Elementary and Little Star Montessori schools, Morales’ and Lopez’ employers, the family’s landlord and other members of the community.

Advocates for Morales hope the outpouring of support will spur elected officials to request a hearing for Morales in the coming week.

The family doesn’t know if Morales will be released on bond or will be able to face a judge, Lopez said. Their lawyer is fighting hard for him to face a judge so he can present all the letters of support from the community, she said.

Long-time resident of Okanogan County

Morales was brought to the United States from Mexico by his mother when he was 12 years old. He graduated from Brewster High School and has lived in Okanogan County his entire life as a teen and adult. His wife and two children are U.S. citizens, and his mother recently became a citizen, according to the Facebook page.

The family was told that because of Morales’ applications for a visa and a “previous run-in” with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he was on their radar, Lopez said.

People contributing to the GoFundMe campaign were appalled that the family had been torn apart by what one called a “cruel policy.”

“I cannot imagine a world where a father is separated from his wife, children and mother for just being a decent hard working man,” said one. “This policy is wrong on so many levels! And its finally hit our home and valley families!” said another. “I am a daughter of an immigrant. I believe in human rights,” wrote another contributor.

At the cinema fundraiser, Cole said she felt a personal link to Morales’ situation. Her family moved from Toronto to Denver decades ago when she was 11, when she obtained her green card.

Danbert Nobacon, a local musician who immigrated from Britain and became a naturalized citizen seven years ago, was at the cinema to perform his song “Building A Wall (Not Now, Not Ever)” before the screening of “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Nobacon and Cole both described anxiety as green-card holders. Nobacon said he’d been openly critical in his music and writing of the British and U.S. governments and worried that his comments could jeopardize his citizenship application. “I was really nervous for two days — me real name, me stage name, me antics. I’d been arrested at a street protest in England,” he said.

But at his citizenship interview in Spokane, the main question was about his finances, Nobacon said. “I jumped through hoops, but I’m a white, English person,” he said.

Coordinating help

Morales’ friends and family have been in touch with organizations that assist immigrants, including the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network. They’re hoping to arrange a meeting between Morales and an advocate from NWIRP at the immigration detention center in Tacoma, Bradley said.

As of Feb. 11, Lopez had hired a lawyer and was headed for Tacoma to see her husband. She was just notified that she has an interview later this month regarding an application for a “petition for alien relative” that they sent in last year, she said.

“We can breathe now and are being told he is not in danger of deportation in the next few days. Now we wait for a hearing!” Morales’ supporters said in a posting this week on Facebook.

A connection to home

Francisco Morales got a welcome connection with home over the weekend, when Kent and Dawn Woodruff of Twisp went to the immigration detention center in Tacoma to see him. “Just having a friendly face is something we can all appreciate. I just wanted to give him some warm encouragement,” Kent said. They’ve been friends for a decade, he said.

Morales is in an area for low-risk detainees, with bunk beds separated by partitions. He said he’s been sleeping OK and had bacon and eggs for breakfast, Woodruff said.

When Morales was first transferred to the Tacoma detention facility, he was pretty discouraged, Woodruff said. “But when he learned of all the support and outpouring in the valley, it filled his chest with hope. It completely surprised him how many people knew him and cared about him,” Woodruff said.

They didn’t talk about the details of Morales’ case. “We just wanted to provide positive support,” Woodruff said. Instead, they reminisced about the last time they saw each other, at a preschool holiday gathering when Woodruff was playing Santa and had Morales’ daughter on his lap, Woodruff said.

Immigration laws

Immigration law “specifies that aliens unlawfully present in the United States will be arrested and may be detained pending immigration removal proceedings,” according to a public affairs officer with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In some cases, detention is mandatory by law. In others, an individual may be released if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or an immigration judge determines that the person will not pose a danger to the community or a risk of flight, she said.

Conditions of release can include the payment of an immigration bond and/or participation in an Alternative to Detention Program, which uses an electronic-monitoring device and case management to encourage compliance, the public affairs officer said by email.

Decisions concerning bond amounts are determined on a case-by-case basis. ICE considers known criminal record, history of immigration arrests and violations, current immigration status, manner of entry into the U.S., and ties to the community and any support network. ICE prioritizes detention for serious criminal offenders and those who pose a threat to public safety, the officer said.

Anyone removed by ICE is afforded due process in accordance with U.S. laws and regulations. Some are removed quickly, while others go through lengthier proceedings, the officer said.

This story originally appeared in The Methow Valley News.

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