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Utah college student facing deportation backs down on residency claim

Published December 6, 2011 7:29 am

Immigration • Dream Act activist first says he got a reprieve, and then takes it back.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

David Morales, the West Valley City man arrested on his way to Bible college by federal authorities for being in the country illegally, said on Facebook Monday he will be granted residency in four days.

But then, in another post 12 hours later, he wrote a long missive explaining he was still facing deportation and that he believed an immigration judge wouldn't deport him based on a sermon he was watching at Ministerios Vida Nueva.

"Last night while in service at Ministerios Vida Nueva, a Pastor from New Jersey was preaching and the spirit of God moved like no other, it wasn't the presence of God, it was the Glory of God sweeping through the church," Morales wrote. "It's been a hard year but I know my times of blessings are here! The pastor from NJ who I have never met in my life, looked at me and told me, "just how God changed the face of pharaoh he will change the face of the immigration judge, even if you hear thousands of immigration horses coming against you, don't be afraid say the Lord, they will drown in the waters!!"

The 20-year-old — who is deeply religious and isn't shy about relaying spiritual visions he believes are from God — has a hearing before Immigration Judge Dustin Pead on Thursday for his removal proceeding.

His attorney, Jeffrey Young, said the Facebook posting was "something with his religious beliefs" and said the legal schedule remains intact.

"He believed God would give him some sort of blessing," Young said.

Morales' case has generated a lot of publicity since he was arrested in January while riding on a bus to a Bible College in Louisiana. On his way to the school, federal immigration agents stopped the bus and when they came upon Morales, asked to see his papers proving he was a U.S. citizen.

Morales came to the country when he was 9 with his parents — all as undocumented immigrants.

Since his arrest and eventual release on bond, he has slowly ramped up efforts to publicize the plight of undocumented immigrants — including children brought to the country by their parents.

He became active in The Salt Lake Dream Team, which has pushed for the passage of the Dream Act and held a press conference in September to reveal himself as an undocumented immigrant.

His case was originally scheduled to be heard in early October, but attorneys got a continuance while they attempted to work with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement attorneys to qualify Morales under the new prosecutorial discretion directive issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in August.

That directive was designed to only deport undocumented immigrants arrested or convicted of major crimes while administratively closing low-priority cases.

The new policy is estimated to affect about 300,000 undocumented immigrants in the midst of removal proceedings and is believed to affect people like Morales who have been in the country for more than five years, have no criminal record and are enrolled in college.

But having the case administratively closed does not equate to residency, either. Instead, it means ICE won't pursue removal proceedings on that person.

Morales, a student at Salt Lake Community College, apologized for any confusion.

"I was just trying to have a positive attitude," he said.

Jessica Vega, a member of The Salt Lake Dream Team, said she hadn't seen his original Facebook post which said he would be granted residency in four days, but said "he might be getting ahead of himself."

Morales, on his post, asked for people to come and support him at his hearing Thursday.

"If you could come and support me and enjoy the victory, this is like the end of the Super Bowl," he wrote. "I'm asking you to please come and celebrate with me this victory, not my victory but the victory of millions of people against ICE. My God is a God of impossibilities!!"

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero