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Jaime Leon Rivas turns 19 in ICE detention as loved ones fight to stop his deportation

Categories: Immigration

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Jaime Leon Rivas.
Jaime Leon Rivas turned nineteen years old yesterday. But he didn't spend his birthday with his girlfriend, his friends or his family. No, the Summit County resident spent it inside the GEO immigrant detention center in Aurora, where his girlfriend says he's the youngest person in the custody of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. At 6 p.m. last night, his loved ones -- including staff from Snowy Peaks High School in Frisco, where he was set to become the first member of his family to graduate high school this spring -- held vigil outside the hulking building.

"I hope everyone can see this and know that it's wrong," says his girlfriend, 21-year-old Jenny Martinez. "Students shouldn't be deported. Students deserve to graduate."

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Leon Rivas and some young friends.
Leon Rivas and his brother fled gang violence El Salvador when Leon Rivas was ten years old. They were caught at the U.S. border and, according to immigrant advocates, coerced into signing a voluntary departure, which means the boys agreed to leave on their own. But they didn't do so; instead, they joined family members in Colorado and made a life here. Two years later, in 2007, ICE ordered that Leon Rivas be deported immediately -- an order that the agency didn't act upon until recently.

Leon Rivas was a troubled youth and had several run-ins with the police. According to an excellent story in the Summit Daily about Leon Rivas's case, he ended up in Colorado's juvenile justice system for offenses such as stealing out of unlocked cars. In 2011, a friend invited Leon Rivas to move with him to California, where he landed in more trouble. His friend was affiliated with the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, the same gang that terrorized El Salvador and had murdered Rivas's grandfather. According to the Summit Daily, Leon Rivas never joined the gang. But he was picked up after he asked a man for his money, at the gang's request, and the man gave it to him.

Leon Rivas ended up in a juvenile detention center in Colorado -- and he came out a changed person. His teacher, Jen Wolinetz, remembers that as a young teen, Leon Rivas was "mean, insubordinate and angry." When he showed up at Snowy Peaks, an alternative high school, after being released from detention, he was different, she says: "He is an incredibly kind person and incredibly genuine. ... He acknowledges that he's done things wrong. Jaime is able to reflect with genuine perspective on the choices he's made and he's willing to talk about it." She describes him as respectful to teachers and a leader to his peers. At school, she says, "he crosses all groups and is really loved."

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Melanie Asmar
Jaime Leon Rivas's friends gather outside the detention center on his birthday.
Law enforcement learned of Leon Rivas's undocumented status when he was in the juvenile detention center, says Sophia Clark, an organizer with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. But even though ICE had ordered him to be deported, she says the agency decided to put him under supervision instead. His case was assigned to an ICE officer, and Leon Rivas was ordered to check in with that officer on a regular basis. Things were going well; the officer had recently helped Leon Rivas get a work permit.

On March 4, Martinez drove him nearly two hours to his regular check-in in Glenwood Springs. But when they got there, Leon Rivas's regular officer wasn't there.

"I had a bad feeling," Martinez says.

Instead, two other officers appeared and took Leon Rivas into custody. Martinez says they told her that he was being detained because he had agreed to depart voluntarily when he was ten years old but hadn't left. Martinez says the officers refused to let her say goodbye. So she called Leon Rivas's family and then drove home in tears.

Leon Rivas was transferred to the Aurora facility on March 8 and has been there ever since. Martinez has been to visit him: "He says, 'I don't belong here. I feel like an animal,'" she says.

"He's turned his life around," Martinez adds. "You can tell he has a kind heart."

"I don't want him to get deported," says Julian Maldonado, a friend who attended the vigil. "He's been working really hard. He deserves a chance to make a better man of himself."

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Melanie Asmar
Jenny Martinez, Jaime Leon Rivas's girlfriend, speaks to the media.
Leon Rivas's immigration attorney, Alex McShiras, has applied for a stay of removal, which, if granted, would mean that Leon Rivas would be allowed to remain in the United States for a time. That application is still pending. McShiras is also seeking to reopen Leon Rivas's case; if that request is granted, McShiras says it would vacate the removal order and allow Leon Rivas to seek some sort of relief that would prevent deportation. But technically, because ICE has already ordered Leon Rivas to be deported, he could be sent to El Salvador imminently -- an outcome that his friends and family say would be devastating.

"He really just wants to graduate," Martinez says.

More immediately, the two had plans to attend a Schoolboy Q concert in Denver tomorrow night to celebrate Leon Rivas's nineteenth birthday. "We were going to do a meet-and-greet because he's one of Jaime's favorite artists," she says.

"He was really excited about that."

More from our Immigration archive: "Alejandra Lamas on how surviving the Aurora theater shooting helped her get documented."


Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com


My Voice Nation Help
14 comments
cblockli
cblockli

Jaime deserves a shot at creating a good life for himself. he shouldn't be locked up simply because he crossed a border when he was ten years old and signed a voluntary departure document. He deserves to graduate and benefit from all his hard work in school.


As for comments about the man who was drunk driving and killed someone, yes it is a tragedy, but what does being in the US illegally have to do with this tragic event? How many US citizens have DUI's, how many deaths have been caused at the hands of citizens who were drunk driving? We don't say that those citizens should be deported. Why should that incident in anyway be related to the entire immigrant population in the US?

Garry L. Hodgson
Garry L. Hodgson

So what, he is a criminal and is where he is supposed to be, locked up....

JimTom
JimTom

An illegal with a criminal past, the guy who killed the kid on Colfax the other night, an illegal with a criminal past, what is the difference?

Scott Santeramo
Scott Santeramo

Sorry after hearing that we had an illegal who has been here since the early 2000's, 3 DUI's, multiple run in's with the law, and just killed a kid in Denver....probably not the best time to be looking for sympathy for this kid.

Brian Rouse
Brian Rouse

Am I supposed to feel sorry for him being here illegally?

Kyle Webster
Kyle Webster

Cash Williams tag everyone from rop yo that's Rivas, remember him? He was my roommate at one point, that sucks yo

David Judd
David Judd

He shouldn't have been let in school in the first place.. voluntary exit papers? What a joke

ICantRead
ICantRead

We have a 'legal' immigration system in the U.S. that hard-working foreigners from all over the WORLD respect and use......Then we have the parasites from Mexico that feel they are above our laws and expect us to foot the bill for their crimes. Apples and oranges.

OhReally
OhReally

@ICantRead  tell me you would stay in a country where your family was targeted. 

KeepItDownThere
KeepItDownThere

@OhReally @ICantReadYes. I would stay in my own country if I knew that I couldn't get into another one so easily. We are not going to turn this country into another third world crap-hole just because our neighbors down south can't get their crap together. Your logic is flawed in so many ways I can't even begin. They are fleeing the country because they have been 'DIS-ARMED' and are unable or don't have the guts to take their country back from criminals and the corrupt government. Would you like us to be next? 

chubbybabylove
chubbybabylove

He's not even mexican, he's Salvadorian, and if you actually took the time to take you head out of your ass and see what's happening there and in other countries you would understand. Imagine being 10 years old and crossing that border! You might not have had enough balls to do it but he did, because he didn't want to live like that. And if I must remind you, if you're not a Native American than you're also an immigrant.

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