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"We don't want him to be dead:" One man's family rallies against his deportation

Aug 3, 2015

Jose and Merari Zaldana in 2013.
Credit via Michigan United

Supporters of a metro Detroit man facing deportation pleaded his case in front of Detroit’s federal courthouse Monday.

Jose Adolfo Zaldana came to the U.S. illegally. He’s been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention for over a year, and he could be deported back to El Salvador as soon as this week.

But Zaldana’s family and legal team say deporting him would be a death sentence, because he fled to escape forced recruitment into a violent, powerful gang.

“The moment he steps into El Salvador … they know already what’s going to happen,” said Zaldana’s wife, Merari Zaldana. “And he knows what’s going to happen.

“We will do whatever we can to fight for him, because we don’t want him to be dead. We don’t want the same thing to happen to him … that’s happened to his friends.”

Zaldana’s family said he was forcibly recruited by the notorious MS-13 gang. They said he endured several beatings, was forced to witness a friend’s murder, and finally fled El Salvador after refusing to take part in an attack on an elderly neighbor.

An immigration court found Zaldana’s claims “credible.” But it also rejected his claim for political asylum, on the grounds that he didn’t fit the legal definition of an asylum-seeker.

Zaldana’s attorney, Charles Busse, has filed a writ of habeus corpus. He wants U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Leitman to intercede in the case while his client’s larger immigration case is appealed.

“We’ve asked him to let Jose out, and let him be with his family while the immigration dynamics carry on,” Busse said.

Zaldana had previously pleaded guilty to a minor drug charge in immigration court. The charge wouldn’t be recognized in criminal court, but it does complicate the immigration case, Busse said.

Busse said the judge should believe Zaldana and his family’s claims that he faces a likely death sentence if he’s deported. He cited a recent Honduran client in a similar situation, who was killed less than a month after returning to that country.

“This is what happens in Central America, with the gang activity there,” Busse said.