Federal immigration officials on Monday detained a pastor of an evangelical church near Echo Park, an apparent example of how enforcement priorities have grown far stricter under the Trump administration.
Noe Carias Mayorga, the pastor of the Southern Pacific District of the Assemblies of God, has lived in the country for 23 years after arriving from Guatemala without authorization as a teenager. He and his U.S. citizen wife of 14 years, Victoria Carias, have two children, age 5 and 6.
Carias said she accompanied her husband along with supporters from the evangelical community to the downtown Los Angeles federal building where her husband was scheduled for a check-in with immigration officials.
"I thought everything was going to be fine. We were very hopeful," she said, surrounded by reporters and supporters outside the federal building on Los Angeles Street. But her husband didn't come out.
Once a low priority for deportation under the Obama administration, immigrants like Carias Mayorga are increasingly arrested and detained as the Trump administration continues its ramped-up enforcement of immigration laws.
The number of unauthorized immigrants whose deportation cases were closed during the Obama administration and have now been reopened has jumped. Otherwise law-abiding immigrants with deportation orders, who were allowed to stay so long as they checked in regularly with ICE officials, are being arrested.
Carias Mayorga, 42, had a deportation order dating back to the 1990s. But according to his family, he was allowed to remain as long as he regularly met with immigration officials.
"He would have to come every year. This year, everything changed.” said Carias.
His wife said there were signs of a shift in policy recently. Before his latest check-in, her husband was told he'd have to return in three months instead of a year, Carias said.
Carias Mayorga's lawyer and supporters said he should not be targeted because he has no criminal record. Immigration officials said Tuesday that’s true – but they say his immigration violations should also count.
In an emailed statement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials called Carias Mayorga a “repeat immigration violator.” ICE said the Guatemalan immigrant was previously removed from the U.S. at least three times and “assumed multiple identities and nationalities over the years to evade federal immigration enforcement.”
His attorney, Noemi Ramirez, said Carias was formally removed in 1993 when he was in his teens. The outstanding removal order dates back to 1995. He was granted two stays of removal beginning in 2015. His third request was denied in May.
Ramirez said ICE misrepresented Carias Mayorga's record.
“Mr. Carias as a minor entered the United States, and indicated he was Mexican on one or two occasions, so he could be removed to Mexico because that is where his parents were living.”
Ramirez said the other removals were likely informal ones at the border when he was still a minor, as he tried to return after visiting his family.
Ramirez said Carias Mayorga was awaiting a response to paperwork he had filed in hopes of winning legal residency status through his U.S. citizen wife. She said he hoped to qualify for a waiver that would exempt him from having to leave the country to get a visa and risk a wait of 10 years, as can be required in such cases.
Among Carias Mayora's supporters on hand Monday was Ada Valiente, a pastor from Maywood involved in the sanctuary movement, a faith-based initiative to shelter immigrants on church properties if the need arises.
"We were crossing our fingers," Valiente said. "He didn't want to go into sanctuary; he really wanted to come to the [immigration officials'] meeting."
Carias Mayorga's attorney said as of late Tuesday afternoon, he remained detained. She said he has been transferred to a detention facility in Adelanto.
This story has been updated.