Jose Gonzalez Carranza was baffled when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents showed up at his house on April 8, his attorney said. While he’d come to the U.S. illegally 15 years earlier, he’d been granted a reprieve from deportation after his wife, Army Pfc. Barbara Vieyra, was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.
But Gonzalez, 30, suddenly found himself hauled away to Nogales, Mexico — and separated from his 12-year-old daughter, Evelyn Gonzalez Vieyra, who is a U.S. citizen.
“It didn’t make any sense,” said Ezequiel Hernandez, Gonzalez’s attorney, in an interview with The Washington Post. “If I was an ICE agent or a government attorney and I was told by my administration that I need to deport people, his would not be the first case to choose.”
By Monday evening, hours after the Arizona Republic first reported on his case, ICE abruptly reversed course and returned Gonzalez to Phoenix, Hernandez said. Gonzalez’s fate is now back in the hands of the immigration court, the attorney added.
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The office of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) told the Republic that they were working with Hernandez and ICE to resolve the case.
Gonzalez illegally crossed into the U.S. from Veracruz, Mexico, in 2004, the Republic reported, and married Vieyra in 2007.
A first-generation American, Vieyra had dreamed of joining the U.S. armed forces since she was a girl helping her Mexican-born parents raise Jersey cows on a dairy farm outside Mesa, Ariz., according to the East Valley Tribune. One year after marrying Gonzalez, soon after Evelyn’s birth, she enlisted in the Army and became a military police officer, the Tribune reported. When she deployed to Afghanistan with the Fort Hood-based 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade, she told her sister the sacrifice of leaving Evelyn behind would be worthwhile.
“She always said, ‘I’ll be able to come back and it won’t be like I’ve missed her whole life. I’ll just have missed a part of her life but I’ll be able to give her a better life,’” Guadalupe, her sister, told the Republic at the time.
But she never returned. On Sept. 18, 2010, enemy fighters in the Konar province east of Kabul attacked her unit with rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devises, killing her. She was 22.
After her death, her husband was granted parole in place, an exemption under U.S. immigration law for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit” for the families of service members. Based on that ruling, Hernandez said, an immigration judge later canceled deportation proceedings against Gonzalez.
But in 2018, ICE refiled its deportation case for reasons that remain unclear, Hernandez said. A judge then ordered Gonzalez deported when he didn’t show up for a December hearing — but the orders to attend had been sent to the wrong address, the attorney said.
“We have evidence it went to the wrong address,” Hernandez said. “There were little errors throughout this case.”
When Hernandez learned about the deportation order, he filed a motion to reopen Gonzalez’s case, triggering an automatic stay until a judge could rule. The attorney said he provided evidence of the stay to ICE, which was holding Gonzalez in a correctional center outside Phoenix. But on Wednesday, ICE deported him to Nogales.
On Monday, the attorney alerted the Republic, which wrote a story that quickly churned up national outrage. “It’s the height of cruelty for ICE to deport the father of a child whose mother died while serving in the U.S. army in Afghanistan,” Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Republic.
A few hours after the story posted online, Hernandez said an ICE official called asking to be put in touch with Gonzalez, who had been staying in a shelter for recently deported people in Nogales.
Soon after, he was brought across the border by Customs and Border Protection agents, taken to Tucson and then returned to Phoenix by around 7 p.m. on Monday, Hernandez said. The attorney said ICE did not explain to him their reason for bringing him back to the U.S.
Gonzalez hopes to see his daughter again soon, Hernandez said. “He’s back to his regular life, for now,” Hernandez said.
But an immigration judge will still have to rule on his petition to reopen his case. The attorney said he will argue that deporting Gonzalez would be unfair to a child who has already lost one parent.
“There is extreme and unusual hardship on this little girl,” he said. “Not every deportation includes a child whose mom who was killed in Afghanistan.”