Jose “Ivan” Nunez, 37, spent the night before his Jan. 31 citizenship hearing preparing a scrapbook with pictures of the life he and his husband, an American citizen, have made together since they married in 2016.
He intended to present the scrapbook of photos from vacations around the country as evidence of their marriage during a hearing at the Philadelphia office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Philadelphia.
But Nunez didn't know that ICE agents were notified about the hearing, due to his 2010 deportation order. And after officials ushered his husband, Paul Frame, out of the hearing, agents reportedly entered and took him into federal custody, where he currently remains.
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“I was the one pushing Ivan to go through this process. I said, ‘Let’s do this the legal way,’” said Nunez' husband Paul Frame, 52, of Chester County. “Ivan was skeptical. … I urged him to do what was right. And this is what happened.”
Ironically, the couple obtained their goal at the USCIS hearing: their marriage was formally recognized by authorities as part of a I-130 “petition for alien relative.” But the couple has been forcibly separated ever since, while Nunez is detained at York County Detention Center on a 2010 deportation order stemming from a previous stop at the border while illegally entering the country.
“You approve his marriage, but at the same time you’re trying to contact the very agency that would be in charge of trying to get him out of the country,” said Gonzalo Peralta, Nunez’ immigration attorney. “Prior to the Trump administration, we weren’t seeing very many people actually being sought and captured when they’re trying to go through these proceedings. It’s only been very recently and with Ivan’s case that we’ve actually seen ICE go into USCIS offices.”
As Nunez applies for citizenship, he is attempting to obtain a legal waiver, essentially a pardon for previously entering the country illegally. He also has asked to stay out of fear of potential homophobic violence back home.
“That is the reason Ivan fled Mexico in the first place,” Frame said. “That’s his fear, that if he goes back to Mexico, that he’ll be killed for his sexuality.”
Philadelphia activists with the Latino community organization Juntos and queer Latinx group Galaei held a press conference on Monday at the William Way LGBT Community Center in the Gayborhood to mobilize community support for Nunez, and are circulating a petition online that calls for his release.
ICE officials confirmed that Nunez is in their custody, and a USCIS spokeswoman said it is the agency’s “standard practice” to notify ICE if individuals with deportation warrants are at the office.
Frame, who has worked in the cattle-auction sales business for 40 years, said he pushed Nunez to apply to improve his working conditions. Currently, Frame said, Nunez works full-time doing 12-hour shifts painting dump trucks, and has to head in around 4 a.m. every morning.
"I was trying to help him get a better life and move forward," he said. “I had no doubt that morning that we were going to go in and come out and everything was going to be fine. I never thought that we were not going to be coming out together."
"Who that is not legal is going to go through this process?" he asked. "I’d rather stay at home, and be safe and secure, and have him with me."