A Portland Family’s Last Hope for Keeping Their Dad? A Court Ruling.

He’s in lockup in Tacoma, Wash., facing deportation to Mexico.

Every night, 15-year-old Marshelly Lorenzo gathers her three younger siblings around a cellphone. In the next room of their Northeast Sandy Boulevard apartment, their mom, Nori, listens on as she cooks dinner. Family baptism photos and paintings of the Virgin Mary hang above them as they wait for the phone to ring.

It's been a nightly routine for the Lorenzo family for the past 100 days: first homework, then a call from their father. He's in lockup in Tacoma, Wash., facing deportation to Mexico.

Trinidad Marcial Lorenzo has been there since September. But the kids haven't visited him. They think it would do more harm than good.

"You can't hug him or touch him or anything," Marshelly Lorenzo says. "It's the glass in between."

This is one story of an American family in Portland whose life has been upended by President Donald Trump's war on immigration, says Leland Baxter-Neal, an immigration lawyer at Oregon's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Every time a parent is deported, you have family separation, and it happens over and over and over again," Baxter-Neal says. "The nation was rightfully horrified by a policy of family separation at our border. This is really no different, only done one at a time, family by family, in immigration courts around the country, including here in Oregon."

Marshelly Lorenzo knows more about immigration law than any teenager should have to. When her father, 39, received the notice to appear at the immigration office, she went with him because she is the oldest child, fluent in English and Spanish.

She knew he was likely to be detained and possibly deported: "It was kind of depressing because I was pretty much taking my dad to give him away." But Marshelly Lorenzo says her father preferred to face immigration officials rather than feel "hunted like a criminal."

She also knows he has a better case to stay in the United States than many of the 143,000 undocumented immigrants arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement between October 2018 and September 2019.

Lorenzo crossed the border to the United States from Mexico in 2003 with Nori, his high school sweetheart. He made his way to Portland a decade ago, and has worked here as a gardener in Portland's Southwest Hills. He has raised a family, and has no criminal convictions on his Oregon record. But his uneventful stay ended last September, when he was notified that he would have to appear before immigration officials.

Typically, his attorneys would feel optimistic about Lorenzo's case. He meets three legal criteria that strengthen his case to get his deportation canceled. But the U.S. Department of Justice is trying to remove one of those legal protections, in a court case that could have an outsized effect on the Lorenzo family and others (see sidebar, below).

The family has accrued $1,500 in legal fees, which they paid off in December, Nori Lorenzo says. They currently pay $735 a month for their Northeast Portland apartment, but they are receiving financial assistance from their church and Lorenzo's longtime employer, Marcia Walsh, a real estate agent and wife of Portland construction company owner Bob Walsh.

Marcia Walsh says she was devastated when she learned of Lorenzo's arrest, and that she has been door-knocking and making phone calls to do whatever it takes to keep him in the country. "I reached out to as many people as I could," Walsh says. "We all have the exact same sentiments about how special he is and unfortunate and how wrong this is."

Meanwhile, the burden falls on Nori Lorenzo to take care of the couple's four children, including two with severe medical issues. One of the Lorenzos' two boys, an 8-year-old, has begun entertaining thoughts of suicide since his father's detention.

"He sees a therapist," Marshelly Lorenzo says, "because he's been saying things like he wants to kill himself."

Baxter-Neal, the ACLU lawyer, says the court case could offer hope for undocumented immigrants across the country who, like Lorenzo, face increased pressure from ICE.

"We should be looking for ways to keep families together," he says. "We should not be narrowing those pathways."

For now, the Lorenzo family has another nightly routine after the phone call: They pray for their father to return home.

Without Notice

Trinidad Lorenzo has family who would suffer undue hardship if he were deported, and he has lived continuously in the United States for more than 10 years. But Lorenzo could also escape deportation because of a technicality.

Last week, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals began reviewing a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

What's at issue: When the federal government deems someone deportable, it must notify the person. ICE does that by issuing a "notice to appear." The 2018 ruling determined that such notices must contain a date, time and location to be valid.

Lorenzo received one of the notices in 2013, but it was devoid of a date, time and location for Lorenzo's appearance, rendering it invalid under the Supreme Court ruling.

If that ruling is reversed, however, Lorenzo's 10-year residency could be retroactively terminated in 2013, when he received the notice, thus quashing his chances of staying in the country.

The 9th Circuit's decision could affect not only Trinidad Lorenzo, but thousands of other undocumented residents in the U.S., says Leland Baxter-Neal, staff attorney for the ACLU of Oregon.

"This is an extremely common issue: thousands, tens of thousands," Baxter-Neal says. "I think a lot of people are in that circumstance. We all lose mail."

Lorenzo's attorney, Sara Varnado, says there is no way to know how long the 9th Circuit will take to review the case. Regardless, she says, the pressure is on to get Lorenzo before a judge soon.

"Our goal is to get him a hearing as soon as humanly possible," Varnado says. "As of right now, we have to wait three more months before he'll be eligible to have a hearing."

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