Houston Businessman Ensared By Trump’s Irrational Immigration Policies

The case of Roland Gramajo is an excellent example of what's wrong with the Trump Administration's immigration policy.

If you’re looking for an excellent example of why we need to reform immigration laws and immigration policy in this country, then you need look no further than the case of Roland Gramajo. a 40-year-old businessman and father of five who faces deportation for no rational reason:

In August, Roland Gramajo, a Houston businessman and celebrated advocate in the local Guatemalan community, helped organize a town-hall meeting to quell fears about recent federal immigration raids.

He invited community activists from across the country. He also invited members of Congress. He even invited officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to talk about what rights people had and didn’t have if they were confronted by the authorities.

But three weeks after the meeting, it is Mr. Gramajo who faces deportation. He was arrested near his home last Thursday, a move that has stunned his family and rekindled concerns that the Trump administration is targeting advocates as part of its crackdown on illegal immigration.

Mr. Gramajo had been staying in the country illegally — raising his five children, running a business in Houston and helping fellow immigrants with translations — without contact from ICE for about 15 years. Last year, the Houston City Council formally commended Mr. Gramajo for being an “outstanding leader.”

Now, many are wondering if it wasn’t Mr. Gramajo’s entreaty to ICE that drew the agency’s scrutiny.

“This is the problem with the policies of this administration,” said Raed Gonzalez, Mr. Gramajo’s lawyer. “No discretion. Why are you not targeting traffickers? Drug dealers? It just doesn’t make any sense to get this guy that is working and paying taxes and has a family.”

The case was first reported by The Houston Chronicle

Jazz Shaw at Hot Air compares Gramajo to another case that became famous some five years ago:

I’ll tell you what it reminds me of even more, however, and this one was a more serious story. Way back in 2014, you may recall that an illegal immigrant named Jose Antonio Vargas was being celebrated by people on the left and even working as a journalist at various outlets. He was published in major news outlets and showed up at all sorts of newsworthy events. He was literally just daring ICE to pick him up.

When he announced that he was reporting live from a border town in Texas about immigration issues, I’d had enough. I published a column with the rather unsubtle title of, “ICE has the chance to catch Jose Antonio Vargas RIGHT NOW.” I included a picture of him. I quoted his own comments about being an illegal alien. I gave the location where he was staying. Hell, I even included a link to Google Maps with a set of driving instructions from the closest ICE office to where he was staying.

I wrote about Mr. Vargas myself here and here, and while he was arrested because of his immigration status back in 2014, Vargas remains in the country and continues to be a writer and advocate for immigrant rights nationwide. As Jazz notes, the focus of the New York Times piece is the allegation that, much like Vargas, Gramajo was targeted by ICE because of his advocacy for immigrant rights. While that may or may not be true, it isn’t especially relevant as far as his deportation case goes. Like Vargas, though, Gramajo’s story is an excellent example of what’s wrong with current immigration policy.

Gramajo’s story is a familiar one, and similar in some respects to Vargas’s case. He was born in Guatemala and first arrived in the United States via a tourist visa when he would have been roughly 25 years old. As is frequently true of immigrants from around the world, he overstayed that visa and made a home for himself in the Houston area. There is one dark spot on Gramajo’s record consisting of a 1998 conviction for burglary of a motor vehicle, which counts as a “Class A” misdemeanor in Texas. He spent 20 days in jail for that crime, but his family has said that the whole incident resulted from a misunderstanding that was meant to be a prank on a friend and that the friend had attempted unsuccessfully to have the charges against Gramajo dropped. At some point after that incident, immigration authorities began immigration proceedings and Gramajo was deported in 2004. Shortly thereafter, though, he crossed back into the county illegally.

Aside from the burglary conviction, which is more than 20 years old at this point and which from the description appears to have been non-violent and possibly resulting from what was ultimately a misunderstanding, it appears that Gramajo has a clean record. Yes, it’s true that he overstayed the visa that got him into the country in1994 and illegally re-entered the country in 2004 to be with his family but these are arguably civil law violations rather than criminal ones and there is no apparent record that he is charged with any crimes related to his immigration status. Instead, what we have here is someone who first came here when he was roughly in his mid-20s, started and has continued to operate a successful business that has benefited the community, has raised a family, including children who are natural-born citizens in their own right, and has been recognized by the community for the services he has provided to the Houston area’s vibrant Latino native and immigrant community.

Is this really the kind of person we want to be concentrating our admittedly resources on when it comes to deportation cases? As the New York Times article linked above notes, the Obama Administration had shifted immigration policy to concentrate deportations on violent criminals and those with connections to criminal gangs such as MS-13 and others. Soon after he took power, though, the Trump Administration ended that seemingly rational policy and the President promised that he would increase efforts to deport otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants even in situations where they had children who were legal American citizens. Given the fact that immigration enforcement resources are limited, there’s no rational reason for such a policy and no rational reason why someone like Gramajo should be the focus of limited ICE and law enforcement resources when there are people out there who are both here illegally and victimizing members of their community and Americans as a whole on a regular basis.

More importantly, it seems clear that Gramajo is precisely the kind of immigrant that we want to encourage to come to and stay in the United States rather than someone who should be targeted for deportation. It’s also a case that lays bare the need for comprehensive immigration reform that deals not only with issues such as border security and reforming a legal immigration policy that is, by all accounts, overly restrictive, expensive, and bureaucratic. Specifically, of course, I’m referring to the need to find a way to deal with the undocumented immigrant population, which is estimated to number anywhere from 12 million to 20 million people, many of whom are, like Gramajo, part of families that include minor children and others who are either American citizens or in the United States illegally.

In contrast to this idea, the Trump Administration is dedicated to a policy where, as Steven Taylor put it in July, cruelty is the policy. It’s clear, however, that this policy is not working out well at all, that it is overwhelming already over-burdened immigration courts and, more importantly, that its core impact of breaking up families and punishing people who have been living their lives and contributing to their communities is quite simply a misdirection of where we should concentrating our undeniably limited resources. That’s not what America is about, or at the very least it isn’t what America should be about.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Pylon says:

    Obviously, a border wall would have prevented Mr. Gramajo from overstaying his visa.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    That’s not what America is about,

    For a significant number of Americans, that is exactly what America is about. Besides, he broke the law! Just like…. Well, I won’t name any names but her initials are MT and she currently resides in a big white house in Washington DC.

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  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    I find arguments that consist of “I just want to see the law enforced” tiresome. We exercise discretion all the time with law enforcement. For instance, even 1 MPH over the speed limit is a violation of the law, but nobody gets a ticket for it. It’s not worth it.

    And as another example, I would love to see Cliven Bundy have the law fall on him like it has on Mr. Gramajo. Mr. Bundy has been stealing from the federal government, but has experienced little or no consequences for that.

    It’s annoying, but I get that he’s not worth a lot of resources. Neither is Gramajo.

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  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Let’s elect a new President, and then do Immigration reform.
    Reform based on abject racism is not reform.

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  5. Gustopher says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    For a significant number of Americans, that is exactly what America is about.

    Including, it should be pointed out, the man Doug quotes from: Jazz Shaw.

    I’m sympathetic to the arguments that we should control who can stay in this country, blah blah, blah, but we’ve created a system where we do have a large undocumented population for cheap labor, and for years have been all but inviting these people into our country. We have to deal with those people fairly and with compassion.

    Gramajo, starting his own business, is something of an exception to the norm — but a welcome one.

    I could accept a harder line on immigration (disagree with, but accept) if it was paired with amnesty and documentation for those who have been here for years, and prosecuting the employers — stop inviting people in with a wink and a nod, and take care of those we have already invited in.

    I’m also pretty sure that businesses would then be lobbying for much larger immigration numbers.

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  6. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Jazz sounds nice.

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  7. Joe says:

    Let’s elect a new President, and then do Immigration reform.

    I don’t think, Daryl and his brother Darryl, that simply electing a new president will get us there since Congress has been at an impasse on immigration reform for years/decades. While the regular commenters here may have reached consensus on the goals for immigration reform, Americans as a group clearly have not. This administration’s cruelty toward immigrants is simply an opportunistic use of that ambivalence, much as the DACA program was another (opposite) use of that ambivalence.

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m sympathetic to the arguments that we should control who can stay in this country,

    I have no problem with that in principle, but the question comes down to under what criteria. trump and the GOP appear to think they should limit it to rich white people (unless of course they personally are running short of maids and gardeners) Personally I say fuck the rich, I want people willing to work and wanting to build something for themselves (either here or back home).

    and prosecuting the employers

    I heard a radio interview with a Maine fish processor who said he couldn’t stay in business if he couldn’t hire undocumented aliens. My first thought was, “What makes you think you have a right to break the law?”

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  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Joe:
    I don’t know…there was a deal…and Steven Miller put the kibosh on it. Get that white supremacist out of the White House and maybe something can happen.

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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m also pretty sure that businesses would then be lobbying for much larger immigration numbers.

    I don’t know. I’ve seen commentary that “business”, which is to say companies with lobbyists, not your local roofing contractor, for the most part don’t care anymore. They shipped most of those jobs overseas years ago. This was offered as an explanation of why GOPs are making a big deal out of immigration now, but not a few years ago.

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  11. Bill says:

    INS, ICE, have had a long history of acting stupidly. I wrote this at OTB over a decade ago-

    https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/ending_the_widow_penalty/

    How about the wife and mother of a Dead Marine’s only child. Otherwise known as the Hotaru Ferschke saga

    https://www.wizbangblog.com/2008/09/30/absolute-disgrace-ii-marines-widow-denied-visa/

    Or how about this lovely story

    https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2008-mar-13-me-cruel13-story.html

    ICE and acting humanely have never gone together.

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  12. Gustopher says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I heard a radio interview with a Maine fish processor who said he couldn’t stay in business if he couldn’t hire undocumented aliens. My first thought was, “What makes you think you have a right to break the law?”

    Years and years of not enforcing the law, going back generations?

    And he’s not exactly wrong about that. Sparse and selective enforcement makes lots of things effectively legal. Legalish.

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  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Gustopher:

    Sparse and selective enforcement makes lots of things effectively legal.

    For certain people. Invariably white people.

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  14. An Interested Party says:

    I don’t know…there was a deal…and Steven Miller put the kibosh on it. Get that white supremacist out of the White House and maybe something can happen.

    It’s a pity that Miller can’t be deported, preferably to a place where he is the ethnic minority…

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  15. Carol says:

    Here’s a secret no one’s talking about. Trump’s immigration policy is working for unskilled laborers and it’s time for liberals to understand it, otherwise we’re duck soup. We saw the people who were looking for jobs after the Mississippi immigration employment issue. Who are they going to vote for? The bleeding heart liberals, or the side that got rid of the immigrants? In my own neck of the woods, there is a huge shortage of labor for construction, landscape maintenance, mechanics, etc. Salaries are going up, ir you can find the labor to begin with. I don’t think even trump realizes what he’s doing, which isn’t surprising, but someone on the D side needs to wake up.

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  16. Jim says:

    He committed a federal crime (See 8 U.S.C. Section 1325, I.N.A. Section 275.), not a civil violation, in 2004 when he was deported and soon illegally reentered the United States. He is now eligible for up to ten years in prison.

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