DACA Recipient Speaks Out After Being Detained at Checkpoint

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WESLACO – Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals recipients are trying to understand why they were detained.

Nine DACA recipients were held for hours at a checkpoint in Falfurrias on Monday.

Parents, aunts and uncles waited to hear if their loved ones would be deported to Mexico for hours.

It was an unnerving experience that’s left them feeling even more unsettled.

Contributor Oscar Margain conducted the interviews for this story.

It was the day Erika Cepeda would live to regret. She recalls the moment she found out her niece was detained in Falfurrias.

“What am I going to do?” Cepeda asked. “I felt very guilty. What am I going to do? It's my fault. She's going to go back to Mexico because I just invited her. We were going to have fun.”

A trip to San Antonio was derailed by the detention.

Her niece recalls the probing questions she was asked, “How long have you been here? Do you work? Where do you work? Did you graduate high school? Do you have criminal records?”

Outside, Customs and Border Protection agents were met by questions from family.

Cepeda said, “We were like, ‘Why? Why is this going on?’ Well, we had like a law that went through at 7 a.m. and we have to stop everyone that has DACA and we have to get the procedures that we have to do.”

DACA recipients know they have to keep their work permits up to date. Cepeda’s niece shows her card is currently valid. The processing lasted about six hours. Agents let her go with a warning. Cepeda’s niece said, “They're like, ‘Oh, you can't come no more. Either you go back to where you are or you stay where you're going. Because if you pass a second time, we're going to deport you.’”

She and her aunt went to San Antonio after she was released. They took another DACA detainee home. He'd been pulled off a bus in route north. Future trips for now are on hold.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS is told the nine detainees were held indoors while detained. Food or the option to buy it from a vending machine was offered.

A memorandum was issued by the Department of Homeland Security on September 5 regarding changes coming after the end of the DACA program.

Among those changes the memorandum states they:

"Will continue to exercise its discretionary authority to terminate or deny deferred action at any time when immigration officials determine termination or denial of deferred action is appropriate."

CHANNEL 5 NEWS received information from Congressman Henry Cuellar’s office that a separate and similar internal memo was sent to border patrol. It too detailed what their actions should be when they encounter DACA recipients.

The law says those who rely on DACA are not granted legal status. It only means removal is deferred.

According to the Department of Homeland Security website, immigration officials can determine if termination or denial of deferred action is appropriate.

We spoke with an immigration attorney, Carlos Garcia, about what that means.

He said, "It's up to immigration. It's up to the government. The government could use their discretion to cancel their DACA authorization even though the person hasn't been convicted. I think that's something real important people should know."

Having a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more misdemeanors or posing a threat to national security or public safety can lead to removal.

Garcia recommends those who are detained at checkpoints seek legal counsel.

He adds DACA recipients should carry their driver’s license, employment authorization document or work permit.

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