Soccer Player Picked Up by Immigration

by Jessica Cervantez

A controversy has developed following some arrests in Nacogdoches. Federal immigration agents took six people into custody for crimes that could lead to them being deported. Authorities say they're trying to crack down on gang activity. But some people say, if that's the case, why did police arrest a high school soccer player who's trying to get a college scholarship?

Friends and family members of 17-year-old Daniel Romero say he was scared to death after he was swarmed by federal agents and placed in a holding cell with alleged gang members. In a button-down shirt, Romero posed for his mug shot, but his friends are more familiar with picturing a high school senior who loves playing soccer.

It must be said that Romero has had run-ins with the law. He is an illegal immigrant. He recently completed probation for leaving the scene of a traffic accident last year. He was also arrested after he reportedly grabbed his girlfriend's wrist during an argument at school. No charges were filed in that case, but he was suspended from school and the soccer team.

Many members of the community are rallying behind Romero. They include everyone from soccer moms to immigration attorneys. They say Romero is a good kid, and they're shocked and upset over what's happening to him. But, authorities say they're not trying to target anyone, they are just doing their job.

Soccer Mom Claudia Fields is busy making black arm bands with the number nine for a playoff game. Nine is Romero's jersey number, and the soccer team wants everyone to know they're behind him.

Fields said, "Daniel playing soccer is not the reason why we're trying to bring this child home. There's a good chance he wont be able to play for us for the rest of the season. We're not bringing him home to play soccer, we're bringing him home because he's a good kid and he needs to graduate with his class."

Players and coaches who know the mid-fielder well say they would be shocked to find out that Daniel was affiliated with a gang.

Coach Farshid Niroumand said, "I have coached Daniel for the last four years. He's a nice, clean-cut young man, works hard, makes good grades, and is pretty regular on the practices."

Joshua Allred, one of Romero's teammates, said, "As far as I know, and even the rest of the teammates, we're pretty much with him all of the time when he's not in soccer."

Nacogdoches Police Chief Bill Lujan says investigators didn't know Romero was a soccer player, but he says that doesn't matter. The teen's name appeared on the list because of his past violations and because of some of the people he knows.

"His name may have come up in relationship with a gang situation, I don't know that for a fact. He maybe a great kid. I'm not saying he's not, I don't have any idea," Lujan said.

Daniel's father says he is a good son, and he just wants him home. But he's worried about what effects this entire episode may have on his son's future.

Leaders of the Hispanic community in Nacogdoches are concerned about how the Hispanic community will react to this incident. It's been just over two months since a Hispanic man was accidentally run over and killed by a Nacogdoches police officer. And there are concerns that Daniel Romero's case might create more animosity towards the police department.

Ruben Rodriguez, a member of the Hispanic Alliance for Community Enrichment, said, "I think there will be a feeling of mistrust again from the Hispanic community and a lot of that they bring with them. Part of what we do is try to educate them about the proactive role that the law enforcement takes. This could set us back."

Romero and his parents are illegal immigrants, but Daniel has lived in the United States since he was about 8-years-old. His parents now fear that they too could get deported.

An Immigration and Naturalization attorney says US Immigration laws are very strict, which means these next few years will be nail-biting for Romero's family.

Richard Fischer said, "We're fighting against a legal structure that's against us. The immigration laws are also made two facilitate the rapid deportation of everybody. So it's a real fight, but this is important stuff."

Romero was taken to an INS office in Beaumont after his arrest. He will be allowed to come home after he posts a $5,000 bond. Ultimately, Romero will have to face an immigration judge in Houston to plead his case. The judge will then decide whether Romero should remain in the United States or be deported. That process could take as long as a year.