KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Crecensio Mendez is sitting in a Morgan County, Missouri jail. He's been there since February since Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents picked him up unexpectedly.
"They believed that as long as he followed the law and didn't get in any trouble, that he'd be able to stay here," said Diana Martinez, spokesperson for Mendez's family.
On February 7, everything changed when he went to check in with ICE, as part of a supervision order.
"He didn't come home after that. So ICE decided to detain him after his check-in," Martinez said.
ICE spokesperson Shawn Neudauer says Mendez had been checking in with ICE since 2014, after the supervision order.
Martinez works for Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation (AIRR). She got involved in Mendez's case while at a rally for Syed Jamal, another immigrant whose case got national attention.
The family came to the U.S. illegally from Guerrero, one of the most violent states in Mexico.
Mendez's wife, Yasmin, and their four kids don't understand why this is happening. Mendez's work visa doesn't expire until December 2018.
Yasmin asked that we not mention her last name.
"He's not a criminal," Yasmin said. "He doesn't have a bad record. He's been a good dad, a hard worker."
Mendez is the sole provider for his family. Yasmin has a foot injury that prevents her from working.
Their eight-year-old son, Antony, has juvenile arthritis and needs special treatment at the hospital. Mendez helps pays for the medication and takes him to his doctor's appointments.
Yasmin says his dad's absence has been hard on him and sometimes he doesn't want to go to school.
"Antony goes out on the porch looking for his dad. He misses him," Yasmin said.
Neudauer says immigration officials initially encountered Mendez in 2005 after he crossed from Mexico into Arizona.
"He was granted voluntary return and was returned to Mexico the same day," Neudauer said.
Neudauer says ICE encountered Mendez again in Marshall, Mo., where the family lived at the time, and issued him a notice to appear before a federal immigration judge.
According to ICE, a judge issued Mendez a deportation order after he didn't come to a scheduled hearing.
Mendez's family and attorney, Jonathan Willmoth, says they never got the notice because they had moved addresses.
Neudauer says in April 2014, deportation officers took custody of Mendez following an arrest on local charges.
The family says he was arrested for driving without a license.
Then, ICE let him go under the supervision order, which required him to check in with agents periodically.
Willmoth says Mendez never had any run-ins with the law since.
Immigration attorneys say that prior to changes in the administration, ICE officials would warn a family weeks before detaining someone. Now, that's not the case.
Willmoth says it seems like ICE is picking up people who don't necessarily pose a threat to the community.
During the last check-in, Neudauer says "ERO Kansas City determined that Mendez-Ramirez was amenable to arrest, and he was placed in custody so that ICE could carry out the immigration judge’s 2010 order."
Neudauer didn't answer our question as to why Mendez was arrested if he'd been checking in as instructed.
Willmoth is filing an appeal after his petition for asylum was denied. He doesn't expect to hear back for nearly three months.
In late February a judge also denied a motion to reopen the case, but Willmoth is working on it.
After Mendez will have been detained for 90 days, which is coming up in a few weeks, Willmoth will be able to ask the judge to release Mendez for the time being until a decision is made.
"Two months is a long time to be isolated from family but it's also waste of taxpayers' money when he can be here with his family, provide for them and making a plan to prepare for whatever happens," Martinez said.
On Tuesday evening, supporters planned to go to El Centro in Kansas City, Kansas to write letters of encouragement to Mendez, and send some to immigration officials as well.
"It's so difficult because he's the one who works, he's the one who gives the kids whatever they need. It's so hard for us right now because more than anything the younger kids need him," Yasmin said.
ICE sent the following statement to 41 Action News:
“On Feb. 7, 2018, Cresencio Mendez-Ramirez, a citizen of Mexico illegally present in the United States, was arrested by officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during his routine check-in at the Kansas City ICE office. Afederal immigration judge issued Mendez-Ramirez a final order of removal in 2010.
Mendez-Ramirez was initially encountered by U.S. immigration officials in 2005 after illegally crossing from Mexico into the U.S., in Arizona. He was granted voluntary return and was returned to Mexicothe same day.
In September 2009, while working on leads in an unrelated investigation, special agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) encountered Mendez-Ramirez at a residence in Marshall, Missouri, and arrested him for immigration violations. He was issued a notice to appear before a federal immigration judge, and released from ICE custody pending his court appearance. In February 2010, a federal immigration judge ordered his removal (deportation order) in absentia, after he failed to appear for the hearing, making him an ICE fugitive.
In April 2014, ICE deportation officers encountered Mendez-Ramirez in Merriam, Kansas, following his arrest on local charges. ICE placed a detainer with the Merriam Police Department and took custody of him on May 1, 2014, following his release from local custody. ICE placed him on an order of supervision and released him from custody. Mendez-Ramirez continued to periodically check in with ICE between 2014 and 2017.
On Feb 7, 2018, during his last check-in, ERO Kansas City determined that Mendez-Ramirez was amenable to arrest, and he was placed in custody so that ICE could carry out the immigration judge’s 2010 order.
On Feb. 21, 2018, an immigration judge denied Mendez-Ramirez’s motion to reopen his immigration case. Also on Feb. 21, 2018, Mendez-Ramirez filed an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) which is still pending.
Mendez-Ramirez remains in ICE custody pending disposition of his immigration case.”