Two brothers from Gaithersburg were deported to their native El Salvador on Wednesday in what their attorney says was the fastest deportation process he has ever seen.
They entered the country illegally in 2009, however, and although they initially won reprieves from deportation, their efforts to renew those stays were repeatedly denied.
The brothers have no criminal records and would not have been a priority for deportation by the Obama administration, said Matthew Bourke, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
President Trump's administration, in contrast, has made clear that any undocumented immigrant is subject to being expelled from this country. And so, on the same day that the White House endorsed a proposal to curtail legal immigration to the United States, the brothers were put on a plane to San Salvador.
“These kids did nothing wrong — but that is too low a bar. These kids excelled,” said Heather Bradley, who taught Diego’s English as a Second Language class at Quince Orchard and worked with Lizandro on the literary magazine.
Lizandro’s soccer coach said he was supposed to leave Wednesday to begin preseason practices at the two-year Louisburg College.
On Friday, the brothers were detained by ICE agents in Baltimore after a regular check-in. Lizandro Claros Saravia told the agents that he was planning to attend college on a scholarship, said Nick Katz, senior manager of legal services at CASA de Maryland, who is representing the pair.
“The ICE agents told me they were deporting the kids because Lizandro got into college, and that showed they intended to stay in the U.S.,” Katz said.
Bourke said that is not how ICE conducts enforcement actions.
“They were issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge in 2012. That’s why they were removed,” Bourke said. The brothers were granted a stay of removal in 2013, but subsequent applications for stays were denied.
Bourke said decisions about individual cases — including the timing of deportations — are made “on a case-by-case basis, meaning they can be done differently.” Many Trump supporters have applauded the increase in deportations, saying no one in this country illegally has the right to stay.
In El Salvador, the brothers were to be met by two aunts and three grandparents. But their family here — including their parents; their older brother, Jonathan; and their sister, Fatima — are worried about the violence they could face there.
El Salvador was named the hemisphere's murder capital in 2016.
“They have separated my family,” Lizandro and Diego’s mother, Lucia Saravia, said at a news conference outside CASA’s headquarters Wednesday afternoon. “We were together, and we were very happy.”
“The system is supposed to deport criminals — I am fine with that,” said Jonathan, 29, a carpenter. “But my brothers did nothing wrong. They’ve had their futures taken from them.”
Legally, there is not anything else CASA can do to help the brothers, Katz said. Being deported means it’ll be much harder for the brothers to reenter the United States legally, and the process will probably take at least 10 years, Katz said.
The elite Bethesda Soccer Club, where Lizandro played for the past four years, is planning a fundraiser to help the brothers get settled in El Salvador.
“We’re all disgusted by the government,” said Matt Di Rosa, Lizandro’s friend and teammate, who graduated from Wilson High School in Northwest Washington this spring and will play for the University of Maryland in the fall. “We’re going to keep pushing and try to help Lizandro even if he is not here.”
On Monday evening, members of the team rallied outside the Department of Homeland Security to protest the brothers' arrests.
CASA de Maryland had planned a protest in front of ICE headquarters on Thursday. Instead, they said, they are organizing a march to the White House on Aug. 15.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said his office had been working to secure the release of the Claros Saravia brothers and that he was “very upset” to hear about their deportation.
“Shame on President Trump for tearing apart hardworking immigrant families,” he tweeted Wednesday evening. “We should be focused on MS-13, not scholarship winners.”