Zues Ocegueda, right, was brought to the U.S. as a child. He and his wife, Michelle, left, have six kids. After years of appeals, the court notified Zues last week he will be deported back to Mexico. He shares part of his story in the video above. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com
IDAHO FALLS — The United States is the only country Zues Ocegueda has ever known, but now U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is forcing him to leave.
Since 2017, ICE agents have been working to deport the 40-year-old Idaho Falls man to Mexico. Ocegueda has worked with attorneys to appeal the decision, which has repeatedly been denied.
Last week, the Board of Immigration Appeals filed a motion to deny Ocegueda’s request for a stay of removal.
Ocegueda’s last hope is for his wife’s I-130 form petitioning for an alien relative to become a U.S. citizen to be approved. She’s been waiting more than two years for a response.
Barring any intervention, ICE agents will be coming for Ocegueda “any day now” to pick him up and ship him to Mexico. In that instant, he will not only be forced to leave behind his family of six, but could also be banned from returning to the U.S. for up to 15 years.
“There’s a removal ban for the deportation with ICE. It’s a five year ban. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a ban for unlawful presence in the United States. That’s up to a 10-year ban. So if they go for the full extent, I am looking at 15 years that I can’t come back to the states,” Ocegueda tells EastIdahoNews.com. “My youngest son (who is 4) would be 19 before I could see him again.”
Ocegueda family photo | Courtesy Michelle Ocegueda
A decades-long battle for citizenship
Ocegueda has faced numerous obstacles in his efforts to apply for U.S. citizenship.
He moved to eastern Idaho 16 years ago but was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 2.
“My mother brought me (to California),” Ocegueda explains. “My father was assassinated and decapitated in Guadalajara, Mexico. He wasn’t one of the greatest people in the world. He had a lot to do with the drug trafficking. Things like that catch up to you.”
Ocegueda’s mom fled the country in search of a better life for her son.
His mom eventually remarried a U.S. citizen named Jose, who promised he would petition for their citizenship. He provided a green card to Ocegueda and his mom.
Those promises turned out to be invalid. Ocegueda says his dad pocketed the money that was supposed to pay for their citizenship and Jose abused both of them.
It was years later when Ocegueda applied for a job that he learned his social security and green card were fake. He paid a visit to the Department of Homeland Security where a woman helped him begin the process of getting a legitimate green card.
He moved to Idaho in 2007 in search of better work, where he landed a job with an asphalt company in Blackfoot. He was on the job in October 2017 when armed federal agents showed up looking for him.
“‘Get on the bleeping ground,’” Ocegueda recalls them saying. “‘You run, I shoot to kill.’ I got on the floor and gave myself up. The most traumatic thing I will never forget is these ICE agents pointing a gun at my friend and foreman’s head, saying, ‘Get the f*** back.’ My friend (Trent Hone of Blackfoot) was trying to protect me.”
The reason the agents were armed that day is tied to Ocegueda’s past. As a teenager, he was arrested for marijuana possession. All the charges were later dropped and dismissed, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals felt this made him a person of immoral character, and therefore warranted his removal from the country.
Ocegueda was arrested and booked in the Jefferson County Jail for two weeks before ultimately ending up in federal custody in Tacoma, Washington, where he was held on an $18,000 bond.
“Trent put up $18,000 to get me out of prison (in Dec. 2017),” Ocegueda says through tears. “Nobody that I’ve ever met would’ve done that for somebody. That’s a lot of money. He’s been such a blessing to me, been by my side since all this went down. He hasn’t given up hope on me.”
Hone hired Ocegueda to work at the asphalt company years before his arrest. The two of them first met in 2014 and lived in the same neighborhood for a short time.
At the time, Hone says Ocegueda had no idea where he was born. At some point during the hiring process, Ocegueda tracked down his birth certificate, and it was an eye-opening experience for him. Paying his bond and helping him through this process is something Hone is happy to do for his friend.
Ocegueda met Michelle, the woman who is now his wife, months after being released from prison. Ocegueda has children from a previous marriage and this was an issue during a court hearing in 2019.
“They said I couldn’t provide insurance for my children (which was a stipulation in his divorce decree) so I wasn’t taking care of them,” says Ocegueda. “I did owe back child support and the run in with the law (during my teen years) came into play as well.”
Ocegueda and his attorney notified the court they would appeal this process.
This binder includes all of the paperwork Ocegueda has filed since his arrest in 2017. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com
We reached out to Ocegueda’s attorney — Nate Rivera, in Blackfoot — to learn more about immigration law, and whether there’s any recourse for his client. Despite calling numerous times and leaving several messages, he has not called us back. Several other attorneys have also failed to return our calls.
In 2012, the Obama administration established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), a law which protected those brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. President Trump tried to phase it out in 2017, which the Supreme Court rejected. In 2021, a federal judge ruled DACA is illegal and blocked new applicants.
“The ruling allows for immigrants currently protected by the program to keep their status while the case goes through the appeals process,” according to Arizona State University’s College of Law.
Ocegueda’s DACA application, which he re-filed in 2021, is now at a standstill.
“My application is just sitting at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices. Nobody is taking a look at it or doing anything with it because Congress put a stop to it,” says Ocegueda.
Ocegueda has reached out to members of Idaho’s U.S. delegation. Congressman Mike Simpson responded by saying he wants to “be of assistance in every way possible” and asked Ocegueda to sign a privacy release form so he can contact USCIS on Ocegueda’s behalf. In the email, Simpson explains that his office “cannot force any agency to expedite (this) case” or influence “the outcome of cases that are under the jurisdiction of any court.”
Congressman Simpson’s written response to Ocegueda on May 10. | Courtesy Zues Ocegueda
Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst
Despite numerous court battles standing in his way, Ocegueda was successful in getting a work visa approved in 2020. This allowed him to take a new job at a nursing home in Ammon. Working here has brought him a lot of fulfillment over the last three years.
It’s also been helpful in resolving some of the court’s concerns. He is now able to provide insurance for his children and has since made good on his child support payments.
With no word from authorities since 2019, Ocegueda held on to the hope that his appeal would be approved. He was shocked last week when the Board of Immigration Appeals, after four years of silence, sent a letter to Ocegueda informing him his request for a stay of removal had been denied.
The Board of Immigration Appeals sent this document to Ocegueda on May 1. | Courtesy Michelle Ocegueda
It’s an emotional ride for Ocegueda and his wife as they wait for the day immigration agents arrive to take him away from his family and the only life he’s ever known and ship him across the border.
“I don’t know Mexico. I barely speak the language. All I know is America. This is my home,” he says, choking up.
His wife, Michelle, also started crying when asked how she’s feeling about the situation. She’s hoping the I-130 form will be approved as soon as possible. She’s pleading with authorities to reconsider their decision and re-evaluate this whole process.
A family friend launched a GoFundMe on Ocegueda’s behalf to help him start a new life in Mexico.
With an ongoing crisis at the US-Mexico border and reports of a migrant surge as Title 42 expires, Ocegueda is frustrated he’s being forced to leave when thousands of migrants enter the country illegally every day “no questions asked.”
“Our system is broken. I wish Republicans and Democrats could set their differences aside and realize (they’re) tearing families apart with this nonsense,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’ll go back to Mexico. But the ones that suffer are my kids and my wife.”
Hone describes Ocegueda as “a good man” and says it’s unfair he’s being penalized for being brought to the U.S. illegally at an age when he was too young to remember or do anything about it.
“This is his home and I want to see him here with his family,” Hone says. “He’s got to go back at some point, but it would be best if we could get the system to work. We’re doing everything we can … but it’s not easy.”
Ocegueda makes a tearful plea to anyone with the power to help to intervene in his case.
“Just give me a chance. Let me prove to you that I am a worthy person to stay here,” says Ocegueda.
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