Inside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Eloy, Francisco “Frankie” Madrid-Holguin is thinking about Mexico.

The Coconino County Detention Facility transferred Madrid to ICE custody Jan. 28, six days after Flagstaff Police Department arrested him on a misdemeanor warrant and then found about 20 grams of heroin and other paraphernalia in his backpack, according to the police report. He is now in immigration removal proceedings.

“It scares me to death,” Madrid said.

On April 18, Madrid is supposed to ask an immigration judge not to deport him to Mexico, a country he has not set foot in since his mother brought him to the United States without legal documentation when he was an infant. He knows almost nothing about it and has no friends or family there. For Madrid, Mexico is truly a foreign country.

His dream was to go to college to become a registered nurse. A run of bad luck and a year of bad decisions landed him on ICE’s doorstep, instead.

MADE IN AMERICA

Madrid grew up watching his mother, Maria, struggle. In Sonora, Mexico, she was a college-educated teacher. She had friends, a career and a life there.

But Madrid’s father was abusive. Afraid for her safety and the safety of her children, Maria fled the United States, where most of her extended family lives either as permanent legal residents or citizens. Madrid was 2 months old. Maria could only get low-paying service jobs, which she would often lose because of her undocumented status.

“I was very sad,” she said through an interpreter. “It was really uncomfortable. I was thinking more about my children than myself.”

Now, she said, she prays her oldest son will be able to come back to her.

Madrid, 25, has lived in Flagstaff most of his life. He made a name for himself as an activist, fighting for LGBT and immigrant rights with local groups including Flagstaff Pride, Arizona Dreamers in Action and the Northern Arizona Interfaith Council.

“Even though I’ve always felt like less than a lot of other people (because of my immigration status), I’ve still always felt American,” Madrid said. “I felt that since I couldn’t vote, I couldn’t be involved in the traditional sense of the political process, I had to make up for it.”

Madrid realized he loved helping people and his community early on when he joined the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association’s I AM Youth Group and later became a youth mentor. At age 16, he began working as a hospice care provider.

“Everything he did for (the patients) he did with great caring and great love,” his mother said.

Meanwhile, he campaigned for current Flagstaff City Council members Coral Evans, Celia Barotz and Eva Putzova, and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, among others.

“Frankie is an example of an active community member who has participated in the rally for marriage equality, spoke against SB 1070, and then attended a march for climate change action,” said Putzova, who has started an online Go Fund Me campaign called Save Frankie! Stop the Deportation! with a goal of raising $10,000 so Madrid can hire an immigration lawyer.

So far, people have donated more than $3,000.

Leah Mundell of the Northern Arizona Interfaith Council is one of dozens of people who have written to ICE on Madrid’s behalf.

“His deportation would separate him from his family and friends, prevent him from pursuing his education and work opportunities, and rob our state of a leader who has already given so much to improve the Flagstaff community,” she said in the letter.

FROM ACTIVISM TO ARRESTS

Before 2015, the only spots on Madrid’s record were a handful of traffic citations. But things started to go wrong in 2013, when his little brother, Norberto “Beto” Ramos-Madrid, then 17, was arrested and charged with the murder of Juan Hernandez. Beto was found not guilty in 2015.

“My social circle really shrank,” Madrid said. “Everybody seemed to be involved with the Juan Hernandez case. Either they were co-defendants or they were really vocal about supporting Juan and his family.”

At the time, the Sinagua High School graduate was legally working as a caregiver on a two-year work visa he obtained in 2014 with the help of Sabrina Price, a New Mexico immigration attorney who had an office in Sun City. Madrid believed she was going to file his application for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which would allow him to go to college.

Distracted by his brother’s legal troubles, Madrid said he was not vigilant enough about his own immigration process. He did not know Price had been taking money from her immigration clients but not providing adequate legal services. The state Supreme Court’s presiding disciplinary judge issued an official reprimand on March 21, 2014.

“If Ms. Price had been an Arizona attorney, the hearing panel would have ordered disbarment,” the Arizona State Bar wrote in a motion filed with the court.

Madrid did not learn there was a problem until after his calls went unanswered and he drove to her office and found it closed. She had never submitted his DACA application. By then, his work permit had expired. He was unable to keep his full-time job.

He withdrew from his community work and activism. By the time Beto went on trial in January 2015, Madrid said, the only two friends he had left were a pair of girls who used drugs. He became depressed.

“I fell into drugs,” Madrid said. “It’s really hard for me to admit that because I went so long being vocally anti-drug. I didn’t do any drugs prior to 2015. There’s no excuse and I feel horrible that I allowed that to happen.”

In 2015, FDP arrested Madrid five times for shoplifting. He pleaded guilty to three counts in Flagstaff Municipal Court and agreed to pay roughly $1,040 in restitution. On Oct. 19, a judge issued a misdemeanor warrant for his arrest because he was not making his payments.

The other two counts were charged as felonies in Flagstaff Justice Court. In one case, according to the FPD report, Madrid was seen throwing away a spoon that later tested positive for heroin residue. Madrid was facing a drug paraphernalia charge. Those cases are ongoing.

On Jan. 22 this year, FPD arrested Madrid on the misdemeanor warrant. According to the police report, a backpack on the floor of the car he was in contained $700, drug paraphernalia, prescription opiates, heroin and a receipt with Madrid’s name on it. Police also found an unloaded gun in the front passenger seat map pocket, though another occupant claimed ownership.

The police charged Madrid with possession of narcotic drugs for sale, possession of drug paraphernalia and carrying a weapon in the commission of a felony crime. Due to the immigration proceedings, Madrid’s drug case file is currently sealed in Coconino County Superior Court. He has not been tried or convicted.

“The drug issue was an isolated time period in my life,” he said. “I almost feel like this was a blessing because it got me away from that. Now, I can go back with a clear mind and get back to the person I was before.”

But to “go back,” he’ll have to convince an immigration judge to let him stay in the United States.

SEEKING ASYLUM

A November 2014 memo from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security directed that undocumented residents who pose a threat to national security, border security and public safety, including convicted felons, should be ICE’s highest priority for immigration enforcement. Anyone convicted of at least three non-traffic misdemeanors falls into the second-highest-priority category.

“A comprehensive review of relevant databases indicates Mr. Madrid-Holguin falls within the agency’s stated immigration enforcement priorities,” said ICE Public Affairs Officer Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe.

Immigration attorney Ezequiel Hernandez, who is not representing Madrid, said if someone in Madrid’s position wants to avoid being deported, one option is to apply for DACA. His previous convictions, however, could make him ineligible.

“If he doesn’t qualify for DACA or he files and he gets denied, he’s going to be deported unless he claims a fear to return to Mexico because of his sexual orientation,” Hernandez said.

That may be the strategy Madrid pursues. As an openly gay man with a history of outspoken activism, he said he worries he would be in danger if he was deported.

A 2013 study by the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration noted that despite Mexico’s adoption of progressive laws – including the legalization of same-sex marriage in Mexico City – a lack of enforcement has allowed hate crimes against LGBT individuals to persist in much of the country.

It cited a College of Mexico study of 11 Mexican states, which found evidence of 1,656 hate crimes against LGBT people between 1995 and 2009. It also cited 2011 findings by Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination, which found 640 LGBT people were reported murdered in Mexico in the same time period and only 10 percent of those cases were resolved.

Still, only about 9 percent of asylum applications were granted at the Eloy facility last year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review’s FY 2015 Statistics Yearbook.

Madrid plans to keep fighting. He said he will do anything it takes to stay in the United States.

“If that meant staying here in Eloy for another two to five years like some of the other guys that are here, or if that meant going to prison to deal with anything. I don’t believe that I would have to do prison time but if that’s what it took, that’s what I would do. I would do rehab, whatever it took to stay here,” he said.” It’s not only for my family, not only for my safety, but I feel like this is my country.”

The reporter can be reached at mmcmanimon@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

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