Supporters of Julio Martinez, a 2009 graduate of Franklin County High School, are working to keep U.S. immigration officials from deporting the 19-year-old to his native Honduras because he missed an immigration hearing a decade ago.
Friends of Martinez have written to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has the power to put a deportation on hold. They've also called members of Kentucky's congressional delegation to enlist their help.
Immigration officials arrested Martinez March 17 at his job at Lexington's Amazon facility and, by Friday, had transported him to a detention center in Wisconsin, where they began the deportation process, said Rachel Newton, a Louisville immigration lawyer hired late Thursday to represent Martinez.
"What I see is a child who was brought here and a situation completely out of his control," she said.
Martinez's mother also is being sought by immigration officials.
The case of Martinez, who played varsity soccer for Franklin County High School and is active in the Christian church to which his family belongs, helps to put a face on the complicated issues and emotions surrounding immigration policy.
Louisville-based immigration officers arrested Martinez as part of the agency's National Fugitive Operations Program, aimed, in part, at finding illegal aliens with deportation orders who didn't appear for immigration hearings, said Gail Montenegro, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Chicago.
In Martinez's case, his mother, Diana Burgos, brought him and his sister to the United States more than a decade ago, where they were quickly picked up after arriving in Brownsville, Texas, Newton said.
Burgos told Newton that she fled Honduras because she feared for her life. A friend of hers had allegedly been the victim of domestic violence, and when the woman left her husband, the man "came after Diana, and he told her he was going to kill her," Newton said.
Her long-ago fears were not the only ones in the case.
Several friends and educators who know Martinez declined to be interviewed, fearing retribution. Erin Howard, Hispanic Outreach Coordinator at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, where Martinez was a student last semester, has received threats on her college voicemail, Newton said.
The anonymous messages, which Howard has reported to college officials, say she should be deported or "should die" because she works with Hispanic students and the callers equate them all with illegal aliens, Newton said.
Martinez's mother didn't tell immigration officers a decade ago about the threats that caused her to leave Honduras with her children. But the U.S. policy at the time was to release immigrants with the understanding that they would appear later before a federal immigration judge.
The Burgos family was headed to Eminence, Ky., where they had family.
It's unclear why Burgos didn't respond to a court notice to appear in court in Texas in 2000, although Newton also said immigration officials "mishandled" the case by not requesting a hearing in Northern Kentucky.
"All I know is that she never spoke with an attorney, and she didn't know what to do," Newton said of Burgos. She believed that if she wasn't represented by an attorney, she'd be deported and killed, Newton said.
Martinez, whose full name is Julio Cesar Martinez-Burgos — the combination of both his parents' names, as is the custom in Honduras — had just turned 9 when his mother missed that hearing.
The family later moved to Frankfort, where they rented an apartment.
Last fall, when Martinez took classes at BCTC, he took a part-time job at Amazon to help pay for classes. But his mother and sister became sick, so Martinez began working more hours at Amazon and didn't re-enroll at BCTC, said Azucena Leon, a 19-year-old University of Kentucky student and member of the Bluegrass Latino Student Organization, which is trying to help Martinez.
Leon and other students from Central Kentucky have asked Kentucky's representatives in Washington, D.C., for support. So far, they said they've been disappointed by the lack of response.
The Latino student group has backed proposed reforms that would prevent automatic deportation for children brought to the United States by their parents.
"For the people out there who don't believe what we're doing is correct, not supporting our youth, our children and destroying their future would be like destroying the promising future of this country," said Rogelio Roman, 20, a BCTC student from Jessamine County.