The door of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement vehicle. Courtesy ICE

A protest planned in Fallbrook Saturday turned into a celebration after a young father facing deportation was released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said community leaders.

Mario Figueroa, 22, was released Friday after 10 days in ICE detention, said Ricardo Favela, a spokesman for the local human rights organization Alianza Comunitaria. Figueroa was detained July 11 when a Border Patrol agent stopped the vehicle he was a passenger in as he and the driver, a U.S. citizen, drove to work in Temecula.

“Their lawyer argues this was a case of racial profiling because they were not stopped for any traffic-related reason,” Favela said. “The Border Patrol agent’s first comments were questions about citizenship and nationality.”

Figueroa, a married father of a 10-month-old daughter, is a Guatemalan citizen who was brought to the U.S. by his parents as a toddler, Favela said.

“Mario should have never been detained and separated from his family because he qualifies for immigration relief such as Deferred Action (for Childhood Arrivals),” Favela said.

A celebration welcoming Figueroa home was set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Jackie Heyneman Park in Fallbrook.

Staffers working for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, contacted ICE on Figueroa’s behalf, according to Favela. The detained man’s wife, Celeste, also created a petition on Change.org, addressed to the head of ICE’s enforcement and removal operations in San Diego, asking that her husband be released.

“This is a great injustice because Mario is eligible for DACA … and he should not be detained,” she wrote in the petition. “His attorneys have been working hard to prove that Mario is already in the process of immigration relief.”

On Friday, as Celeste Figueroa worked with members of Alianza Comunitaria to plan the rally, she got word her husband would be released.

“We are relieved to hear this news and we thank everyone who helped, signed the petition and spread the word,” Celeste Figueroa said. “Our 10-month-old daughter, Adalyn, has been asking for her daddy everyday since he was detained and now she will see him again.”

Favela called Figueroa’s release a testament to “what can be accomplished when we organize and move forward together.”

Figueroa’s case will now be reviewed for either asylum or Deferred Action, Favela said. His family’s first attempt to gain asylum was denied despite claims his father, a bus driver in Guatemala, was targeted for extortion by criminal groups that threatened to kidnap and sexually assault his family members if he didn’t smuggle contraband for them.

— City News Service

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