A man who was a key witness in a 2002 murder trial in Saline County will be allowed to stay in the United States, at least for another year and a half.
During a short teleconference Wednesday in a Kansas City immigration court, Judge D. John Brahos of the Immigration Court of Chicago, granted Francisco “Paco” Inzunza a postponement of his deportation from the United States to his native Mexico. The next time Inzunza’s case will come before an immigration judge is Feb. 13, 2007.
Inzunza’s youngest son, Anthony, a shy 10-year-old and the only member of the Inzunza family with U.S. citizenship, hugged his father’s legs at the news.
Although there were 16 of Inzunza’s supporters on hand ready to talk about his contributions to the town of Marshall, no one got a chance to testify. In the end, it wasn’t Izunza’s compelling case but a backlog of other immigration cases that extended his stay in the United States.
Angela Ferguson, Inzunza’s lawyer, said that every Wednesday the court also has a detention docket, which rules in the cases of people with serious convictions. Those cases have been stacking up for weeks, and there was another, higher priority case that needed to be heard at the same time involving an immigrant with a criminal record.
It was a fitting, temporary reprieve for a man who is widely described as a great guy.
In 1993, Inzunza settled in Marshall with his wife, Susy, and son Francisco Jr., after entering the country illegally in 1991. As some of his supporters waited outside the courtroom Wednesday, they talked about how Inzunza — whom everyone first knew as Manuel Lopez — worked as a translator and helped start Habitat for Humanity in Marshall in addition to working full time as a custodian at Bueker Middle School. He also served on boards and helped new immigrants settle into the community.
It was through his work as an interpreter for the Marshall Police Department that Inzunza’s undocumented status was revealed. After interpreting the confession of a murder suspect, he became a central witness in the case when it went to trial and was forced to disclose his real name and that he was in the country illegally.
Chuck Hird met him in 1995 during a steering committee meeting to found a Marshall chapter of Habitat for Humanity. With his wife, Marty, crying in relief at his side at the news that Inzunza would be able to stay for now, Hird said the postponement of deportation was the next best thing anyone could have hoped for, aside from his receiving a green card.
When Inzunza does eventually go before a judge again, his son Anthony, could turn out to be his salvation if a judge decides it would be an extreme hardship for him to be separated from his father.
“The issue is not what a good man Paco is and what good things he’s done. He can do good things in Mexico,” Ferguson said. “The issue is whether or not his son will suffer.”
Hird and other supporters said they hoped the 17 months would allow enough time for immigration reform to take place.
For Inzunza, the decision meant an extension of his temporary work permit. In a few months, he said he would begin reviewing his case again with his lawyer.
Although he said he felt content and satisfied with the ruling, it didn’t lift the burden. “There’s no relief,” he said, “just more time.”