A 38-year-old Marine combat veteran and convicted felon — who grew up in California after being brought to the U.S. at age 3—was deported to El Salvador this week after being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody for more than a year, his attorney said.
Jose Segovia Benitez was jailed by Salvadorian authorities upon arrival to the Central American country but was released from custody by Thursday, his attorney, Roy Petty, told the Orange County Register. He was originally expected to remain in jail for five days as local police investigated whether Benitez, who has a lengthy criminal record in the U.S., was wanted for any crimes in El Salvador.
Petty, a Dallas-based attorney, traveled Wednesday to Arizona's Florence Correctional Center, where he said he was surprised to learn his client had been deported.
"ICE kept his deportation a secret. They kept it a secret from him, me, his other attorney, and they kept it a secret from his mother,” Petty told the Phoenix New Times. “It's not common practice. Generally, what ICE will do is they will notify the person so the person can make arrangements. They woke him up and put him on a plane."
Petty had requested California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, pardon Benitez, which would clear his criminal record as his U.S. citizenship case is processed. The lawyer claims immigration officials told him that he had more time to file paperwork to delay his client’s deportation. Newsom's office has not commented about the pardon request.
According to his lawyer, Benitez remains in hiding in El Salvador as gangs often kidnap former U.S. service members, torture them and hold them for ransom. Benitez does not speak Spanish fluently and has not returned to the Central American country since leaving when he was 3 years old.
"We certainly hope that ICE will correct this problem and allow him to come back to fight his case," Petty said. "What would certainly be horrible would be if he were kidnapped or killed in El Salvador before that."
Benitez, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif., was a legal permanent resident when he joined the Marines in 1999 and served two combat tours in Iraq, the Register reported. His family said he was never properly treated for a brain injury he suffered from the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED). He was honorably discharged in 2004, and, according to family, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and began to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Benitez was convicted of several felonies, including a domestic violence charge following an incident involving his then-girlfriend, assault with a deadly weapon, DUI and narcotics-related offenses, the Times reported. He served four years in prison and lost his legal status, meaning his Green Card was revoked, as a result of two aggravated felony convictions. He was taken into ICE custody in January 2018 and was transported to a facility in Adelanto, Calif., before he was moved to a detention center in Arizona.