Several area lawmakers at a Monday press conference showed their support for a San Antonio resident and U.S. citizen who was deported to Mexico in June.
Julio Cesar Ovalle was walking to an H-E-B in Northwest San Antonio on June 11 when a border patrol agent stopped him and asked for identification, according to a claim local Espinoza Law Firm filed against the Department of Homeland Security in September. Ovalle, who was then 23, told the agent he was a citizen but did not have identification with him. He was detained and deported within two days.
U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-San Antonio) said he feared incidents similar to the one involving Ovalle would happen when he heard then-presidential candidate Donald Trump equate Mexican immigrants with criminals and rapists on the campaign trail in 2015, and when the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 4, otherwise known as the “sanctuary cities” law, in 2017. The law permits police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain.
“This is a case of deport first, ask questions later,” Castro said. “It would have been easy for federal agents to look into his Social Security number, to look into his claim that he was a United States citizen. But instead they ignored all of that and proceeded to deport him and put his very life in danger.”
Ovalle’s attorneys claim he was deported to Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, where he was abducted by a cartel and held for ransom. The cartel let him go after the FBI started investigating, as Ovalle overheard cartel members saying, attorney Javier Espinoza said.
State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) said although politicians were accused of hyperbole when fighting legislation like SB 4, Ovalle’s story shows the potential damage of laws targeting and affecting Latinos.
“I’m so glad Julio Cesar Ovalle is safe and sound with his family,” Menéndez said. “But he continues to have nightmares. When he was picked up by the cartel, what could have happened to him?”
Ovalle, who was born in the U.S., raised in Mexico, and doesn’t speak English fluently, said he was angry this happened to him.
“He regresado con un resentimiento grande … con un coraje fuerte, porque fue una discriminación conmigo,” Ovalle said. (I have returned with great resentment, with an intense rage because I was discriminated against.)
Nearly five months after he was detained and deported, Ovalle carries identification with him at all times. He said the main takeaway from his deportation is that everyone should do the same.
“Si de pasarme puede pasarle a cualquiera,” he said. (If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone else.)
Castro urged voters to go to the polls on Tuesday, Election Day.
“I hope that as all of us wind down this electoral season, that everybody will remember that as we chart a course for our nation’s politics tomorrow, that we take a different path, that we choose leaders that don’t demonize folks who don’t speak English but are citizens, or folks who to them may look different,” Castro said. “Because this is what we risk – more cases like Julio Cesar Ovalle’s – people being targeted and deported, even though they have a right to be here in the United States.”
City Councilman Cruz Shaw (D2) said Ovalle represents many in San Antonio: a neighbor, a parishioner, a confidante, a friend.
“We must be upset,” Shaw said. “We must be vigilant and move forward to make sure this does not happen again.”
Espinoza said he hopes sharing Ovalle’s story will spur people to action on Election Day.
“I believe this is the effect of the hateful rhetoric and anti-Hispanic rhetoric we heard from the White House,” he said. “Voting will change this, because it puts in place leaders who don’t fear us, but embrace us.”
Espinoza said though his firm filed the claim in September, it hasn’t otherwise been in contact with Homeland Security.
“We [have] yet to hear anything back from the government,” Espinoza said. “Was it a mistake? A miscommunication? Was it intentional? We want to know their version. We want answers. His family wants answers.”
The government has six months since from the date the claim was filed to respond. If the two parties do not reach an agreement by then, Ovalle’s attorneys can file a lawsuit.