A Fallbrook father detained by Border officials on his way to work is recalling, for the first day, his time in custody, unsure if he would ever see his young daughter and wife again.
Mario Figueroa, the young father of a 10-month-old girl, was detained by Border Patrol agents on Tuesday in Temecula on his way to work, and scheduled for deportation the following Tuesday.
The father was first brought to the U.S. from Guatemala when he was just three-years-old. Because the family was not granted asylum, Figueroa's attorney said, his name was put on a removal order.
"They told me [I'm] for sure out of this," Figueroa said in an interview with NBC 7. "You are not going to get away from this. He told me, 'You're on a plane Tuesday.'"
The father of 10-month-old Adalyn spent the last four days in the Otay Mesa Detention Center. His daughter could not begin to comprehend where her father went, his wife Celeste said.
"Since he left all she could say was 'daddy.' That is all she said,” Celeste said.
It has been 18 years since Figueroa arrived in the U.S. Figueroa did not obtain legal status in the country and his paperwork for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is currently being processed, his wife said. DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a two-year period of deferred action from deportation.
For those reasons, undocumented immigrant advocates said, he should never have been detained.
"Many of those getting picked up are contributing to our community. It does us no good. It does not move us forward," Community Alliance member Ricardo Favela said.
Figueroa was released late Friday night without explanation, he said, after a scary four days in detention awaiting certain deportation.
The judge's removal order, however, still stands.
“It honestly makes me feel like I am still locked up," Figueroa said. "It feels like just because I am not in the room I'm still not free."
Figueroa's circumstances aren't as unique as they may sound. Advocates say an estimated 44,000 undocumented immigrants in San Diego are eligible for DACA Status.
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Figueroa hopes no one has to go through what he went through.
"We shouldn't let people go through what I went through or treat others differently because of where they are from," he said.