The husband of a US soldier killed in Afghanistan was deported last week until, just as his case began to catch national attention, immigration officials suddenly reversed their decision and allowed him back in.
“You end up traumatized,” Jose Gonzalez Carranza told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview Tuesday from Phoenix. “You end up in limbo.”
For five days, Gonzalez Carranza stayed in Nogales, Mexico, as close to the border as he could so his cellphone could still pick up a signal and reach his attorney, not knowing if or when he’d be able to get back to his 12-year-old daughter in Phoenix.
Then, just as unexpectedly as he had been deported, the 30-year-old was allowed back into the US on Monday. He and his attorney told BuzzFeed News they still have no idea why.
The deportation caught Gonzalez Carranza by surprise. He’d entered the US illegally when he was 15, but had been offered a reprieve and his immigration case was closed after his wife, Army Private First Class Barbara Vieyra, was killed during a tour in Afghanistan in 2010.
But on April 8, Gonzalez Carranza was pulled over at 5 a.m. while on his way to work in Apache Junction by officers that he said were wearing bulletproof vests, helmets, and military gear.
“I had seven or eight cops yelling at me and pointing guns at me,” he said. “When they took me in, I asked them, ‘Who are you?’ and they said nothing, only that I have an order to be arrested.”
It wasn’t until he arrived at a detention facility in Phoenix that he learned they were immigration officers. By April 10, Gonzalez Carranza had been deported and was in Nogales.
Gonzalez Carranza stayed in Nogales the entire time, and although he had no idea when or if he’d be allowed to return, he had no plans on leaving either.
“He wasn’t going to leave Nogales,” Gonzalez Carranza’s attorney, Ezequiel Hernandez, told BuzzFeed News. “He’s lived here his entire life.”
While in Mexico, the case was reported by the Arizona Republic and national news outlets, drawing increased public attention to the widower of a US vet who had been separated from his daughter, a US citizen.
“Everything that they asked him to do, we did,” Hernandez said. “There was no reason for him to be deported.”
Then on Monday, Hernandez said he got a call from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials who told him that if Gonzalez Carranza could make his way to the port of entry in Tucson, Arizona, they would allow him back into the US.
On Tuesday, ICE officials said Gonzalez Carranza was allowed to return to the US, "pending adjudication of his immigration proceedings," but an agency spokesperson did not answer questions from BuzzFeed News on why the deportation decision was reversed.
Meanwhile, an immigration judge with the Executive Office for Immigration Review will determine if proceedings should be reopened, and whether Gonzalez-Carranza has legal basis to remain in the US, an ICE spokeswoman said in a statement.
Originally from Veracruz, Mexico, Hernandez said Gonzalez Carranza’s only trouble with the law was when he was pulled over for a DUI when he was 17 or 18 years old.
Then when he was 19, he married Barbara Vieyra, who gave birth to the couple’s daughter before enlisting in the Army.
Gonzalez Carranza said his late wife wanted a better life for her and her family, but on Sept. 18, 2010, she was killed when her unit was attacked near Kabul with IEDs and rocket-propelled grenades.
Gonzalez Carranza was granted parole under a provision that allows undocumented relatives of military members to stay in the US. Hernandez said his client’s deportation order was then canceled and his case closed.
Gonzalez Carranza obtained a work permit for a job as a welder, sharing custody of his now 12-year-old daughter with his former in-laws.
Hernandez said ICE later moved to have Gonzalez Carranza deported earlier this year, unbeknownst to his client.
Hernandez said he does not know why the case was refiled, but that Gonzalez Carranza was never notified about an immigration hearing, where he was ordered removed.
Hernandez said he believes it was the public attention that pushed US officials to reverse their decision; however, ICE has offered no explanation. He also doesn’t know why his client was allowed back in.
“They didn’t give us a why or anything,” he said. “All I cared about at that time was for him to get back home.”