The Norwalk Hour
Stamford man ordered for deportation
STAMFORD — Stamford residents Santiago Nunez and Gabriela Vahos took a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona last February to celebrate their first Valentine’s Day together as a married couple.
Officers stopped their car and discovered that while Vahos was a legal U.S. citizen, Nunez was not. Nunez, now 24, was sent to immigration facilities in Florence and Phoenix.
On Monday, Judge Bruce Taylor of the Florence Immigration Court ordered Nunez be deported to Uruguay, the country Nunez left with his family when he was six.
“I’m distraught, very depressed. There aren’t words for it. It really sucks that they’re not even giving him a chance,” Vahos said. “He’s only worked hard to take care of me and his family and friends. This is the last person anyone would have expected this to happen to.”
Nunez and Vahos met in a summer camp in Stamford when they were both in sixth grade and stayed together over the years as Vahos attended Stamford High School and Nunez went to Westhill High School.
They remained a couple even after Vahos moved to Southern California a few years ago to take a job while Nunez stayed in Stamford for his position in marketing and communications at a local company.
On May 5, 2018, the couple married and in December, Nunez moved from Stamford to California to join Vahos in the San Fernando Valley.
“They’ve been inseparable since they were young,” said Maria Salazar, a Stamford resident and friend of the couple. “They’re breaking up a family that doesn’t deserve to be broken.”
Hillary Gaston Walsh represented Nunez in immigration court and said Nunez’s case was unique because at the time Nunez entered the U.S., Uruguay was part of the Visa Waiver Program, which enables citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
“If you’re from a certain country, like England, you can come into the U.S., show your U.K. passport and sign a form saying ‘I waive my right to contest my removal if I stay past the 90 days,’” Walsh said.
In immigration court on Monday, Walsh argued the deportation proceedings against Nunez should be terminated on the grounds that at the age of six, Nunez was not capable of waiving his rights to contest his removal.
The judge, however, denied Nunez’s request and ordered his deportation.
“Now he’s stuck. He needs to be deported so that final order of removal goes away,” Walsh said. “That sends a 24-year-old man to a foreign country to fend for himself. His family has expended all of their resources on legal fees.”
The only person who can impact Nunez’s ability to stay in the country now is the field office director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the Phoenix region, who can take away the order for Nunez’ removal, Walsh said.
The second and last option for Nunez to stay in the country is is to apply for asylum, Walsh said.
Nunez’s case is part of a shift in immigration court practices from the administration of President Barack Obama to that of President Donald J. Trump, Walsh said.
Under the Obama administration, something called the Morton Memo delineated who was a priority for removal. At the top of the list was dangerous and convicted criminals, Walsh said.
The Trump administration did away with the Morton Memo. “Now, if you have no immigration status and you come into interaction with law enforcement, you are are a priority of the U.S government to remove,” Walsh said.
Family and friends of Nunez have reached out to the offices of Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senator Chris Murphy, and Congressman Jim Himes for help. Representatives of Murphy’s and Himes’ offices said they were aware of the Nunez but would not comment on his case further.
“In a lot of situations the law is what the law is, but we can help people know what their rights are and know what’s going on in the process,” said Patrick Malone, Communications Director for Jim Himes.