The office of U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, has reached out to federal immigration officials to learn more about the detention of Victor Chavez, a Jupiter man whose case has become another flash point in the ongoing debate about illegal immigration.
Brad Stewart, a spokesman for Mast, said last week that the congressman’s office had not intervened in the case because no one from Chavez’s family had reached out to Mast. Privacy laws would bar the congressman from asking about the case or intervening without a signed waiver from Chavez, Stewart said.
After The Palm Beach Post reported that, Jill Hanson, a retired attorney in Jupiter and a board member of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, contacted a reporter for the newspaper and emailed a copy of her correspondence with Mast’s office and a waiver she said she had Chavez sign.
Both the email correspondence and the waiver are dated in June.
Asked about Hanson’s claim Monday, Stewart said the congressman’s office reached out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement not long after receiving that waiver, something he said he should have learned about and noted last week when he was asked about the case.
“The mistake last week was my fault,” Stewart said. “I failed to track down the accurate information. That wasn’t the congressman’s fault or the fault of anyone in the district office.”
Mast, whose Treasure Coast-Palm Beach County district includes Jupiter, has not decided whether he will intervene, Stewart said. The congressman is seeking additional information before deciding what, if any, action he will take.
“We’re waiting to hear back from ICE,” Stewart said.
Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency with a verbal broadside against illegal immigrants, some of whom he described as rapists and drug mules. He returned to the subject frequently during the campaign, during which he called for the construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico — a position enthusiastically embraced by his backers.
Since Trump’s election, ICE has pursued a more aggressive deportation policy, moving to deport those who entered and have remained in the United States without legal documentation. In contrast, the Obama administration had prioritized for deportation undocumented residents who committed felonies while in the U.S.
Mast, who supported Trump’s candidacy, has said he favors “a high wall with a wide gate.”
Agreeing with those who say the country’s immigration system is broken, Mast has said: “For starters, we must secure the border. That begins with a fence, more border patrol agents, and unmanned aerial surveillance.”
The change in deportation practices under Trump has intensified the debate about illegal immigration, with some arguing that undocumented residents who have not broken other laws should not be the focus of deportation efforts while others say all of those who enter the country illegally should be deported.
That Chavez has a U.S.-born 13-year old son complicates his case, as does the fact that his wife, the boy’s mother, is also facing deportation.
ICE said in an email to The Post that Chavez has previously been ordered out of the country twice — once in 1996 and again in 2006, when his wife, Matias Carrillo, was also issued an order of deportation.
Carrillo told The Post she and her husband obtained annual work permits in 2014, 2015 and 2016, all during the Obama administration, but that, when she attempted to have the permit renewed in March, she and her husband were detained.
Carrillo was fitted with an ankle bracelet in lieu of detention. Her husband has remains in custody while a decision on whether he will be deported is weighed.
After learning of Chavez’ detention, Hanson wrote to a Mast staff member on Chavez’ behalf, saying he “has become a contributing member of our community in his more than 20 years here, building a small business in Jupiter, marrying, raising a U.S. citizen son, participating in his church and giving back to his community. He has strong roots here and there seems to be no rational reason why he could not be released so he can support his wife and child and operate his business, while his case is being processed.”