Manuel Antonio Cano Pacheco, a Mexican teenager brought to the United States at the age of three by his parents, was brutally murdered just weeks after Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned him to his country of origin.
Manuel – who would have graduated high school last month – was a DREAMER, one of the millions of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, and was protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program initiated under former President Barack Obama.
But that protected status was yanked away after Manuel was pulled over for driving under the influence, and the punishment turned out to be a death sentence.
An ICE spokesperson said in a statement that ICE officers arrested him in Polk County Jail, and a federal immigration judge terminated his DACA status because of two misdemeanor convictions.
The statement from Shawn Neudauer, ICE public affairs officer, also said Manuel wasn't technically deported, but was escorted to Mexico by ICE deportation officers at the Laredo, Texas, border this past April 24. He called it a voluntary departure process that doesn't carry the penalties of a formal deportation. But the impact was the same: Manuel had no choice but to go back, either as a deportee or in a "voluntary departure." He chose the "voluntary" route.
Manuel didn’t have an easy life in the U.S., but he had plans for college and creating a decent future for himself and his small family – a son born to Manuel’s girlfriend is now a year old.
All of that came to a halt after his father was sent to prison on drug charges:
At a small memorial service for Manuel June 3 in Des Moines' Trinity Las Americas church, Juan Verduzco, 20, recalled the friend he made freshman year at East. Manuel was always smiling and upbeat, and never had an unkind word for anyone, Verduzco said in an interview. "He was never a person you would feel bad for."
But that happiness had given way to depression after Manuel's father was sent to prison for drug offenses two or three years ago, according to Verduzco. “He got into really bad depression," he said. Noting some bad habits Manuel was sinking into like drinking, Verduzco said, “Things were going downhill. I didn’t know what to do about it.”
Manuel’s downhill slide landed him in court and eventually sent back to Mexico – an increasingly dangerous place, especially for fresh deportees:
[A]ccording to The Dallas Morning News, deportees are especially targetedby gangs in certain border areas. They are held by their captors unless their relatives in the U.S. pay thousands of dollars for their release. Between January and June 2017, the U.S. deported more than 31,000 Mexicans through two of the most dangerous crossing points, according to Mexico’s immigration service.
Just weeks after his return to Mexico, Manuel and his cousin went out for food one night with an acquaintance of his cousin and found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, Verduzco said. All three were killed; Manuel’s throat was slit.
Yes, Manuel was responsible for driving under the influence during a traumatic time. "I think most of this is because of his dad," Verduzco said. "That's when his college stuff, his dreams went down the drain." No one should put lives at risk by driving under the influence, though some very prominent Iowans have done so without having it derail their futures. Manuel had paid his dues for it.
More than anything, his brief life and gruesome death are a reminder of the heartlessness and counter-productiveness of our immigration policies and removal practices, which don't factor in the harm that people may face upon return.