David Morales might be the first undocumented immigrant who, upon hearing he wouldn’t face deportation, “Tebowed” outside the courthouse.
The 20-year-old activist and student celebrated his legal victory Thursday by mimicking his favorite football player, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, kneeling and offering thanks to God.
Both men are devout Christians who wear their faith on their sleeve and — just as Tebow says he views his time in the NFL as a platform to glorify God — Morales sees himself as God’s vehicle, too.
“I am a reformer and a revolutionary giving rest to the restless and hope to the hopeless,” he said. “Not because of me, but because that is what God has called me to do. Everything I do is from him, through him and for him.”
Morales’ journey began with his arrest in January last year while traveling on a bus from Utah to Louisiana to attend a Bible college, where he hoped to graduate and become a pastor.
For months afterward, he laid low after being released on bond from U.S. Immigration and Enforcement detention — fearful that he might be jailed again. His parents, also undocumented immigrants, were so convinced he would be deported, they began looking into ways to safely get him to his native Acapulco, Mexico.
But then, the Morton Memo — named for it’s author ICE Director John Morton — came out days before his first deportation hearing in August. Morales took it as a sign from God.
“I know God has a plan for me,” he said.
That memo, at the direction of President Barack Obama’s administration, told ICE attorneys to use prosecutorial discretion. In short, focus on deporting only dangerous criminals and close cases of those who have clean records, are either working or attending school and don’t pose a danger to society.
Jeffrey Young, one of Morales’ attorneys, said when the memo came out in August, he felt they had a better chance for getting ICE attorneys to agree to closing the case.
“The agreement was a little bit of both sides,” Young said. “I think they saw there were a lot of things in his favor.”
Young also said the administrative closure of his case was the best possible outcome for his circumstance — even though Morales didn’t find out until an hour before he was supposed to appear in court.
He gets to be with his family,” Young said. “I wish there was more that could be done, but that’s the biggest thing.”
ICE officials did not comment on the case.
Arturo Morales-Llan said it shouldn’t have happened at all. The anti-illegal immigration activist said the Morton Memo creates an unbalanced playing field.
“The fairest way is to apply the rule of law to everyone equally,” he said. “It creates corruption when you give one person the power to pick winners and losers.”
However, Young said his case won’t officially be closed until Immigration Judge Dustin Pead signs off on it — possibly next week. But Young said unless there was a new objection raised by ICE lawyers, it would likely be a formality.
Morales, however, had grown weary of the fight and just two months ago, appearing before Pead, asked the judge for an ultimatum — let him stay or deport him. Young managed to pull the youth aside and counseled him that negotiations were still continuing and got Morales to agree to a continence that ultimately led to his case being closed Thursday.
Through December, there were 1,017 immigration cases pending in Utah, according to the TRAC Immigration Project. But there is no data available as to how many of those defendants are eligible for prosecutorial discretion to have cases closed.
However, having the case closed doesn’t guarantee anything for Morales. It essentially renders his status as undocumented — the same as it was prior to his arrest. That means Morales is not legally able to work in the United States.
Morales, who came to this country when he was nine, said he plans to work toward helping the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“I will make it my personal goal in life to fight for comprehensive immigration reform,” Morales said. “I am willing to pay the price, even if it takes my whole life. I will fight until the end. I’m not scared of dying, I’m scared of wasting my life.”
He has in recent months become a vocal activist fighting for the rights of undocumented immigrants, including joining The Salt Lake Dream Team. That group advocates for the passage of the Dream Act, legislation originally carried by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, over a decade ago that would give children brought here by undocumented immigrant parents a chance at naturalization if they attended college or joined the military.
Sitting in a Starbucks shortly after being freed of the burden of what appeared to be imminent deportation, he polished off a vanilla mocha with his friend, Raymi Gutierrez, a close friend who has helped him navigate the uncertain year.
When they finished, she stood up and hugged him long and hard.
“Yea,” she said softly. “You’re like my little brother.”
Then he bundled up his black coat and just walked out the door and headed home.