The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A soccer star from Gaithersburg won a college scholarship. But ICE plans to deport him.

Members of Lizandro Claros Saravia's Bethesda Soccer Club team chant at a rally Monday protesting his detention by federal immigration officials. (Rachel Chason/The Washington Post)

Foster McCune will play Division I soccer at Georgetown University this fall. Matt and Ben Di Rosa, twins from the District’s Chevy Chase neighborhood, will play for the University of Maryland.

On Monday night, they stood with other members of their elite Bethesda Soccer Club outside Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Northwest Washington, protesting the arrest and pending deportation of a beloved teammate: Lizandro Claros Saravia.

Claros Saravia, 19, who had a scholarship to play college soccer in North Carolina, was detained along with his older brother, Diego, in Baltimore on Friday following one of their regular check-ins with immigration officials.

They entered the United States illegally in 2009, fleeing violence in their native El Salvador. Lizandro Claros Saravia graduated from Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg this past spring and was planning to attend the two-year Louisburg College in North Carolina on a soccer scholarship this fall.

“He’s one of the hardest-working people on our team,” Matt Di Rosa said at the protest, which drew about 50 people, including family, teammates and immigration advocates. “He has a bright future, and that’s something he actively sought.”

Diego Claros Saravia, 22, graduated from high school a few years ago and works in a car repair shop.

Neither brother has a criminal record, said Nick Katz, senior manager of legal services at the immigration advocacy organization CASA de Maryland, who is representing the pair.

They would not have been priorities for deportation under the Obama administration, according to a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But President Trump’s administration has made clear that any undocumented immigrant is vulnerable to deportation, and there has been a steady increase in the number of people detained after otherwise routine check-ins, advocates say.

The White House has said they are focused on deporting undocumented immigrants who "pose a threat to this country." (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

The brothers, who were detained by immigration officers when they arrived in the United States, were issued final removal orders by an immigration judge in November 2012, but were released pursuant to an order of supervision, ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke said.

They were both granted a stay of removal in 2013. But their two subsequent applications for stays were denied. Since 2016, Bourke said, ICE deportation officers have instructed the brothers to purchase tickets for departure.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Katz said. “These are the kids who we want to stay.”

Fatima Claros Saravia, 25, cried as she held up a sign she had made for her brothers. “Stop separating families,” she wrote under photos of Lizandro playing soccer. “Let my brothers live their American dream.”

“They wanted to study and to work,” she said. “We are heartbroken — this is not fair, and it is not right.”

Matt Ney, who coached Lizandro in his first two years at the Bethesda Soccer Club, said the young man was one of the top 50 players his age in the D.C. metropolitan region.

“He didn’t always have access to a car, but he was at every training session, whether he had to take the bus or walk,” Ney said. “He would show up no matter what.”

The team plays 10 months a year, practicing four or five days a week and traveling outside the region for weekend games. In the past two years, Claros Saravia, who received a scholarship and assistance from the club to cover his team costs, missed just two practices.

“Both times he asked me if it was okay, and both times it was so he could study for exams,” said Brett Colton, who coached him for the past two years.

“This is about so much more than soccer now,” said McCune, who graduated from the elite St. Albans High School in Northwest Washington and played with Claros Saravia for four years. “We want our friend back.”

The vast majority of players on the Bethesda club play for Division I colleges after graduating from high school, which Ney said Claros Saravia would have wanted to do if he could afford it. He planned to join a D-1 school after two years at Louisburg College.

Louisburg men’s soccer coach Martin Dell, who recruited Claros Saravia, said he was not aware of the young man’s immigration status. “We don’t fully understand the situation, but we’re hoping it’ll work out,” he said in a phone interview.

Boyd Sturges, Louisburg’s general counsel, said he learned about Saravia’s detainment after inquiries from reporters. The college does not “get involved in a person’s immigration status,” he said.

Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.