Dallas County ‘Dreamer’s’ arrest puts scare in immigration-rights community

DACA recipient released after being arrested

Edwin Romero, a DACA recipient and UT Dallas student, was pulled over for an expired registration and then arrested for two unpaid traffic violations. After he posted bail, he was held overnight in jail for an "immigration hold." He was released w
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Edwin Romero, a DACA recipient and UT Dallas student, was pulled over for an expired registration and then arrested for two unpaid traffic violations. After he posted bail, he was held overnight in jail for an "immigration hold." He was released w

A 25-year-old “Dreamer” was arrested for traffic warrants Tuesday night in Richardson, sparking fears among the immigration-rights community that he would be placed on an ICE detainer.

Edwin Romero was released shortly after 1:30 p.m. Wednesday from the Richardson Jail after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to put a criminal hold on him, a police spokesman said.

An ICE hold, or detainer, refers to an official request from ICE to a local law enforcement agency that ICE be alerted before a person in custody is released so that ICE can then take over custody, according to the Washington, D.C.-based American Immigration Council. The detainer is a tool used to identify potentially deportable individuals who are housed in jails or prisons nationwide.

Romero’s friends took to social media to spread word of his arrest as lawyers worked to find more information. Attorneys with RAICES, a Texas nonprofit that assists immigration detainees, activated efforts to help Romero, a University of Texas at Dallas student who works for an animal clinic and volunteers in the community.

After his release, Romero spoke at an emotional news conference in Dallas, saying he was “overwhelmed. I feel so happy.”

“I knew that my community, my friends were going to act. I knew they had my back. I knew they were going to fight for me. But I just didn't expect the result to be so quick,” he said.

Richardson police Sgt. Kevin Perlich said Romero was arrested Tuesday at 10:43 p.m. He was stopped for an expired registration, Perlich said, and police were notified that he had regional warrants for non-moving violations.

At the jail, he was asked if he is a U.S. citizen, Perlich said.

“He’s not a citizen, so ICE was contacted,” Perlich said, adding that initially ICE told Richardson police that a detainer was not necessary, then backtracked and asked for a hold for a civil matter.

“We are not detaining him for a civil matter,” Perlich said.

Perlich said the department received several calls about Romero’s case.

Romero’s case illustrates the sense of heightened alert that exists in the North Texas immigrant community.

Farheen Siddiqi, a staff attorney with RAICES in Dallas, said attorneys became involved because traffic violations are not the type of legal issues that prompted deportation proceedings in the past. Immigration-rights advocates worried that if Romero was turned over to ICE, he would face deportation.

“Being there and not knowing what's going to happen next is just a horrible feeling in itself,” Romero said. “But whenever my friend told me, 'They haven't released you because there's an immigration hold,' I couldn't hold back my tears. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to think.”

He grew emotional when he described what was going through his head.

“I couldn't help but think about my mom, because my mom is the most important person in my life,” he said fighting back tears. “And I knew that whenever she found out, she was going to be worried, and I was worried because my mom isn't in good health. ... She was my main worry at that point.”

Romero is a beneficiary of the DACA program., which was established under President Barack Obama administration. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was implement to buy time for Congress to act, but that hasn’t happened.

Many of the DACA recipients call themselves “Dreamers” because they are among more than 741,000 young people who were brought to the United States as children without legal status.

Even though the Trump administration has not taken action against people on DACA, many are worried and point to reports that two DACA recipients were arrested and detained by immigration authorities — one in Washington state and one in San Antonio. In the latter, the young man was released from federal custody.

Fears of deportation intensified this week with the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. New rules are expected to expand the Homeland Security Department’s authority to detain and deport people in the country without legal status.

Videographer Maria Chiu contributed to this report, which contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

Sandra Tovar is one of the 750,000 who could lose their working status in the U.S. if President-elect Trump ends Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

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