Had been detained by immigration officials
Francisco “Frank” Morales is home in the valley with his wife and two children, released from the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center on the first day of spring (March 19) after 43 days in detention.
“Yes, he is home! We are all beyond thrilled,” Morales’ wife, Brenda Lopez, said by email. She confirmed that they will be in the valley indefinitely and expressed gratitude for the help they’ve received from the community.
Well-wishers posted welcome signs in the valley but, because of public-health restrictions on gathering, the community — which raised more than $42,000 to help the family and for a lawyer — couldn’t welcome Morales in person.
Morales has an application for permanent-residence status pending with the immigration court, his attorney, Devin Theriot-Orr, said this week. There is currently no removal order for him.
Morales posted a $10,000 bond as part of the conditions of his release, but the judge made no decision on the underlying case, Theriot-Orr said. They expect a new hearing notice from the Seattle Immigration Court, but it’s likely to be at least three to five years before a final hearing, the attorney said. In the meantime, Morales is applying for a work permit, which they expect will be granted, Theriot-Orr said.
Morales was pulled over to the side of the road on Feb. 5 while taking his daughter to preschool, according to the Bring Francisco Home Facebook page set up by his friends and supporters. He was transferred to the Northwest ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Processing Center in Tacoma.
A week after Morales’ detention, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson issued a statement in response to questions from the Methow Valley News about the detention.
“U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested Francisco Morales-Santiago on Feb. 5 in Twisp, Washington. Morales-Santiago is a citizen of Mexico, repeat immigration violator and in the United States illegally,” the agency said in the statement.
“Morales-Santiago has been deported from the United States on numerous prior occasions. Additionally, he was arrested by the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office in Oct. 2011 and subsequently convicted of criminal charges. He was once again deported to Mexico following that conviction.”
“Sometime after his deportation, Morales-Santiago illegally re-entered the U.S. In June 2017, Morales-Santiago was again arrested by the Okanagan County Sheriff’s Office.”
Theriot-Orr, who’s been working with Morales since June 2019 to normalize his status, disputed several points in CBP’s statement. He said Morales was deported once, and that deportation order was found by the U.S. District Court to have violated due process.
“Since June of 2019, ICE/DHS [U.S. Department of Homeland Security] has been fully aware of his present location as we provided this information to them in several different filings, including both a visa petition filed by his spouse as well as a motion to reopen his 2011 deportation order (the one that was found to violate due process). Even though ICH/DHS had full knowledge of his actual address throughout this period, they made the decision, for reasons only known to them, to arrest him when he was dropping off his kids at school,” Theriot-Orr said by email.
“I cannot speak to what would possibly motivate DHS/ICE to take that step in this case when they could have simply sent him a court hearing notice and had him show up to court (which is exactly what will happen now that he has been released),” he said.
According to records obtained from the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, Okanogan County District Court, the Washington State Patrol, and the Twisp Police Department, the convictions referred to by CBP are a hit-and-run and DUI in 2011 Morales received after hitting a guardrail on Highway 20 on the Loup. He served nine days in jail and paid a fine, with the remaining penalties suspended.
In 2017, Morales was arrested at his home in Twisp and charged with fourth-degree assault/domestic violence, according to documents from the Twisp Police Department. Those charges were settled in District Court with a three-year stipulated continuance that included counseling. The state agreed to dismiss the charges after three years if Morales didn’t breach the terms of stipulation.
There were no outstanding warrants for Morales when he was detained in February, Theriot-Orr said.
The application for residency requires Morales to have been present in the United States for more than 10 years and to have qualifying relatives. He has several qualifying relatives, since Lopez and his children are citizens, Theriot-Orr said.
Morales, who’s in his early 30s, has lived in the Methow for a dozen years and is well known throughout the valley. He was brought to the United States from Mexico by his mother when he was 12 years old. He graduated from Brewster High School and has lived in Okanogan County for his entire life as a teen and adult.