Isenberg Center Takes Up Defense of Oregon Man to Stop Deportation

The story of Dallas immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg’s efforts to stop the deportation of a 20-year-old Oregon man is rated as a “Top Five” story today by the editors of the Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon. Here’s how the editors summarize the story:

In a attempt to stop a 20-year-old Happy Valley man’s deportation, immigration advocates from around the nation assembled in Clackamas County on Monday, The Oregonian reports. Edson Barrera Gonzalez was arrested last year after giving his financially struggling parents unauthorized discounts and ringing up false returns at the Macy’s where he worked.

Due to these charges, Gonzalez, who illegally immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of six, has been detained in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Tacoma, Wash.

Gonzalez’s advocates argue that, since he and his family have paid restitution, he should not be treated as a felon. In the latest move to prevent his deportation, Gonzalez filed for bench probation, which would put him under the court’s jurisdiction, and a judge stop his deportation by reducing his crime to a misdemeanor.

Meanwhile on Monday, ABC affiliate KATU went to the Clackamas County courthouse, southeast of Portland, OR to cover the arrival of Rev. Peter Johnson of the Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment (ICIE). Rev. Johnson, a longtime associate of Isenberg’s and a former colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled from Texas to help press the legal case for downgrading Barrera Gonzalez’ legal status from felony to misdemeanor. The legal change in status would likely help Barrera avoid imminent deportation. Video of the courthouse report is archived at the ICIE website.

A quick glance at the comments posted at the KATU website confirms that ICIE is taking a courageous stand in behalf of the young man. Documents shared with the Texas Civil Rights Review tell the story of a family who hit upon hard times and made some bad choices. According to the documents, Barrera, who worked as a cashier at a major department store, attempted to compensate for his mother’s unemployment by selling merchandise to his parents at steep discounts. When then 19-year-old Barrera was caught by store security, he readily admitted to everything and agreed to pay damages.

Although Barrera pleaded guilty to felony charges, he was given penalties more consistent with a misdemeanor offense, argue his ICIE advocates. Because of the irregular immigration status of the family, Barrera’s original 10-day sentence has turned into a lengthy detention by immigration authorities. In detention, Barrera has reportedly maintained a good record of conduct and has become active in helping with detention programs.

Isenberg, who says he has been in frequent contact with the Barrera Gonzalez family by telephone, tells the Texas Civil Rights Review that the family has learned a hard lesson and deserves a second chance. To break up the family by deporting the son is too cruel a punishment say ICIE advocates.

“You can’t have justice without mercy,” says Rev. Johnson in the KATU courthouse report. Meanwhile, Isenberg has offered full financial restitution for the theft. The department store attorney says the company would be agreeable to a downgrade of charges to misdemeanor status. And Barrera has offered to do community service, including talking to youth about the temptations of bad choices. –gm

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