Dear Mr. President,
We pray that you receive this letter with an open heart and a spirit of mercy and justice. We write with respect and gratitude for our governing institutions and for public servants such as yourself.
We also write today out of a deep and abiding love for our brother Pastor Max Villatoro and his family. We believe you are aware of the many phone calls, letters, and petition signatures to government officials concerning Pastor Villatoro. Just as the persistent widow cried to the unjust judge and to God for justice (Luke 18:1-8), we continue to call upon you to bring Pastor Villatoro home.
More than nine months ago, Pastor Villatoro was deported to Honduras, a country in which he had not set foot for more than 20 years. This has caused much suffering, not only for Pastor Villatoro but also for his wife and four children who are struggling to continue on without him in Iowa City, Iowa.
His deportation was in direct violation of ICE policies and should be rectified by your office. We ask that you to take immediate action to intervene on Pastor Villatoro’s behalf and bring him home to his family.
On March 3, 2015, Pastor Villatoro was picked up as part of the nationwide sweep, Operation Cross Check. He has two criminal convictions, one for records tampering in 1999 (related to his trying to obtain a state identification card) and another for DUI in 1998. At the time of his deportation, more than 15 years after these convictions, Villatoro was pastor of a church, a husband, a father of four U.S. citizen children, and a leader in his community, working to help anyone in need, especially those struggling with substance abuse and addiction. Mennonite Church leaders had been working diligently with Pastor Villatoro, attempting to regularize his status.
As we read the November 2014 priority enforcement guidelines, Pastor Villatoro would fall under the “Priority 2” enforcement category. This category includes those with significant misdemeanor convictions (which includes a charge of driving under the influence) or convictions related to the individual’s immigration status. The memo states that such individuals,
“should be removed… unless, in the judgment of [ICE or DHS officials], there are factors indicating the alien is not a threat to national security, border security, or public safety, and should not therefore be an enforcement priority.” (emphasis added)
This language directs ICE to weigh the positive equities for each individual case. There are clearly factors in Pastor Villatoro’s case indicating that he is not a threat to national security, border security, or public safety. However, ICE officials appear to be either ignoring or incorrectly applying the November 2014 guidance.
Despite an unprecedented public effort to raise concerns at the highest levels about Pastor Villatoro’s deportation, which clearly fell outside the guidelines for removal, we have seen no action from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the White House to hold ICE officials accountable. This lack of accountability and oversight is not merely troubling, it has had devastating consequences for the Villatoro family and, we are concerned, for many like him.
We therefore request that you take action immediately to:
- Bring Pastor Villatoro home. We stand ready to work with DHS officials to find an appropriate remedy to bring Pastor Villatoro home to his family, his church, and his community.
- Hold ICE accountable to follow the November 2014 guidelines, including to properly weigh an individual’s positive equities, including family members in the U.S. and positive community engagement, against potentially disqualifying factors when exercising prosecutorial discretion. This accountability should include oversight, training, monitoring and evaluation, and consequences for ICE offices and officials who do not comply.
- Rework performance metrics at ICE so that officers are not rewarded based on the number of removals they make. Officers should instead be rewarded for following guidelines, appropriately weighing equities, and making good decisions regarding when to use prosecutorial discretion.
We ask that you take action immediately to bring Pastor Villatoro home and ensure that others like him are treated fairly and justly.
Friends of Pastor Max
Edie Nebel, Chair
 Department of Homeland Security memorandum dated November 20, 2014, http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/14_1120_memo_prosecutorial_discretion.pdf