When Juan Esquivel-Quintana left his factory job in Mexico and headed back to the Michigan, he carried his newly issued passport and his green card.
Also tucked in his suitcase: the U.S. Supreme Court opinion bearing his name.
He was ready to show it to customs agents if they questioned him when he arrived at the Detroit airport two weeks ago.
“I was nervous,” says the 28-year-old man.
The nation’s highest court decision came in May after Esquivel-Quintana’s attorneys successfully argued that he should not have been deported four years ago because of his criminal conviction for unlawful sexual intercourse.
Click here to read WDET’s previous article and hear conversations about the case.
HIS CRIMINAL CASE
Esquivel-Quintana was 12 when he left a rural village in Mexico with his parents, who had legal permission to work in California. He enrolled in school, but encountered gangs, and eventually dropped out to join his family, working in the fields.
When he was 20, he had a 16-year-old girlfriend. In Michigan and dozens of other states their sexual relationship would have been legal. But California’s age of consent is 18, and the age difference had legal implications.
Esquivel-Quintana faced a felony charge, pleaded “no contest,” served several weeks in jail, and then went on with his life, migrating between jobs in the Midwest and on the West Coast. His parents and some of his siblings had moved to Michigan. Esquivel-Quintana lived with them and worked in landscaping.
But one morning in 2013, four U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were waiting outside the house his parents own.
“I’m here in the morning, I’m going to work. When I go outside they come looking for me,” he says. . “(One agent) told me, ‘You got problems with ICE?’ I said ‘no.’ … and they take me.”
They searched his parents’ house and took him to a cell in Detroit.
“I think like why ICE is here?” he says. “I was confused.”
While judges in the federal circuit covering California have ruled that Esquivel-Quintana’s charge related to the minor girlfriend is not grounds for deportation, their counterparts in Michigan have not. That meant Esquivel-Quintana’s conviction in California made him subject to deportation in Michigan even though his relationship with his girlfriend would have been legal here.
While his case proceeded, Esquivel-Quintana was lodged in several Michigan jails and eventually met Ann Arbor immigration attorney Michael Carlin.
“You need to find one lawyer. Which one is good? You never know,” Esquivel-Quintana says. “He told me ‘Your case is not easy but I’ll try.’”
Carlin first unsuccessfully fought the deportation order in the immigration courts, then lost in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case in February.
Meanwhile, Esquivel-Quintana was deported to a border town in northeastern Mexico in 2015. He says he lived in a government-owned house for two weeks with several other men until he got a bus ticket to return to his family’s village. He got a job in a jeans factory, which is where he was when Carlin called him on May 30.
GETTING BACK TO MICHIGAN
In an 8-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that for a crime like Esquivel-Quintana’s to be serious enough for deportation, the minor must be younger than 16. (President Trump’s appointee, Neil Gorsuch, was not part of the opinion.)
“I was happy,” Esquivel-Quintana says.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) declined to comment about the case or its implications. ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said the agency is reviewing the ruling to determine what, if any, further action it might take.
Carlin worked to ensure Esquivel-Quintana was cleared to come back to Michigan: ICE had held his passport and green card, and they were returned. He purchased a plane ticket from Mexico City to Detroit and rode a bus for three hours to get to his flight.
“I was thinking I want to go back, find a job, work hard and try to help my family because my family helped me,” he says.
But Carlin worried what might happen at customs at the airport so he asked ICE officials for advice.
“ICE said, ‘Yes, we thought of that too so we put some information in our computer database that CBP will see that says there’s the case and that his pathway seems clear,’” Carlin says.
The attorney also called Customs and Border Protection officials. “They said he should have a copy of the Supreme Court decision with him,” he says.
Carlin emailed it to his client, who printed it in a Mexico City store and tucked it into his luggage.
At the Detroit airport Esquivel-Quintana presented his documents and the decision to a customs agent.
“He said, “You’re all set,’” Esquivel-Quintana says. “He said, ‘You feel happy? You win your case.’”
Despite his legal victory and permanent legal residency, he worries ICE will detain him again. For now, he’s looking for a job and plans to continue to improve his English.
“I want to change my life. I want to do something. I don’t want to make trouble no more,” Esquivel-Quintana says. “When I lived in Mexico I don’t care about nothing. Working all day for like $7, you want to come back. … Sometimes you don’t care, You don’t got nothing to lose. … Now I have everything to lose.”
Note: Juan Esquivel-Quintana speaks limited English. Translator Raquelle Seda assisted with his interview with WDET.