When Roland Gramajo invited Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to a town-hall meeting about federal immigration raids, he hoped to assuage the community’s fears surrounding ICE.
“He just wanted to get the word across to the Latino community that they’re not all bad people,” explained Katherine Gramajo, his daughter, in an interview with The New York Times.
Instead of quelling fears, Gramajo may have unintentionally made them worse.
Several weeks after the meeting, Gramajo himself was arrested. He is now facing deportation. Many of his supporters believe the meeting id what focused ICE’s attention on the activist.
Who Is Roland Gramajo?
Gramajo is a 40-year-old businessman and a renowned advocate in the Houston Guatemalan community. For the past 15 years, he has been living in the country illegally with his five children.
Deported in 2004 for a Misdemeanor Conviction
Born in Guatemala, Gramajo came to the U.S. in 1994 on a tourist visa, which he overstayed. He was deported in 2004 for what his daughter described as a “practical joke” that led to a Class A misdemeanor conviction for burglary of a vehicle.
Illegally Returned to Live with Family
Months later, Gramajo returned to the U.S. illegally to be with his family. For more than a decade now, he has led a normal life, working as a businessman to help people get loans and translate documents for immigrants who didn’t speak English.
Described as a Pillar of the Houston Community
Beyond his business, Gramajo has been recognized for helping the community by collecting toys and bicycles for needy families and organizing mental health outreach services.
In a 2018 resolution from the Houston City Council, Gramajo was described as:
“A very well-known community activist whose qualities represent a true leader with an exceptional drive to improve the quality of life throughout the diverse community in Houston and he is an extremely positive role model who is dedicated to serving and inspiring the community to get involved.”
Now, his arrest is sparking concerns that ICE may be targeting advocates as part of its clampdown on illegal immigrants.
The Consequences of Improper Entry into the U.S.
Despite the somewhat rosy framing of the situation in the New York Times article, the facts remain: Roland Gramajo did break the law by twice entering the U.S. illegally and residing here for multiple years.
Under federal law, any foreign national who enters the U.S. via an “improper entry” method can be convicted of a crime and held responsible for a civil violation under U.S. immigration laws.
Legally speaking, improper entry may include:
- Entering or trying to enter the U.S. at a time or place that has not been designated by immigration officials
- Evading examination or inspection by immigration officials
- Lying on a visa application, purchasing a false entry document, or purposely concealing or providing a misleading representation of a material fact in order to enter the U.S.
Whatever the method, the consequences for illegal entry into the U.S. can be steep. For the first offense, you may be fined and imprisoned for up to six months. For subsequent offenses – as with Roland Gramajo – the consequences include fines and imprisonment for up to two years.
Further, since Gramajo has been convicted of a crime, his prison sentence may wind up even longer. The law dictates that nonviolent offenders who were deported before their sentence was completed could be fined and imprisoned for up to 10 years.
While immigrants do have rights in this country, regardless of their status as a citizen, it is especially important to follow the rule of law to the letter.
If you or someone you love has made a mistake, and now faces deportation or other seemingly over-harsh ramifications, talk to an experienced Houston immigration defense attorney sooner than later. You don’t want to face allegations alone.