DES MOINES -- (KTLA) -- Manuel Antonio Cano Pacheco came to America as a little boy and had a full life in Des Moines, Iowa, his mother said. He had acquired DACA status, attended high school and had family — three siblings and a 1-year-old son, she said.
“He was really happy in Iowa. It was the only home he knew,” she said. “He loved school and loved soccer. On his days off from school he would work as a mechanic.”
But Cano Pacheco ran afoul of the United States' changing immigration laws. On April 24, the 19-year-old was sent back to Mexico because of misdemeanor convictions, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Customs said.
Three weeks later, he died in a country he barely knew.
He was murdered in Zacatecas, the section of north-central Mexico where he'd gone to live, because “he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” his Iowa friend Juan Verduzco told The Des Moines Register. One of his acquaintances also was slain, Verduzco said.
Cano Pacheco was buried in Mexico, but his family didn't attend the funeral.
“The entire family is devastated,” said his mother, who asked that her name not be used because she is undocumented and fears deportation. “I almost wanted to return to Mexico but my other children don't have passports and I would risk not being able to come back. We've never left the country before.”
Not a deportation
Cano Pacheco was granted DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status and employment authorization in May 2015, ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said in a statement.
DACA protects undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation. They can obtain valid driver's licenses, enroll in college and legally secure jobs. But the program doesn't give them a path to become US citizens or even legal permanent residents.
In April 2017, Cano Pacheco was arrested on a misdemeanor drug charge and was convicted about the same time on a second misdemeanor, ICE said. ICE didn't provide details about the nature of the second case.
His DACA status was terminated, making deportation a possibility, ICE said. He was released from ICE custody after posting bond, ICE said.
While waiting on an immigration hearing, Cano Pacheco was convicted of driving under the influence and another misdemeanor, ICE said.
Neudauer said that Cano Pacheco was not deported.
He opted for voluntary departure, which means he would not suffer the penalties of a formal deportation, such as being banned from legally returning to the United States for a period of years, Neudauer said.
He requested and was granted voluntary departure on April 10, ICE said, and was returned to Mexico at the border in Laredo, Texas, on April 24.
Cano Pacheco's mother said his lawyer advised him to take voluntary departure “because it didn't carry the same penalties. He was unsure. He didn't want to leave but the lawyer put that in his head. We all feared that he could be killed if he went back.”