Feds give temporary reprieve to immigrant to review his case

Accompanied by his attorney Shelley Witteurongel of Boulder,  Jose Mendoza Turbin glances back at supporters as he waits for an officer to open the door of the ICE facility at 571 Commercial Blvd. to turn himself in for deportation.

A 21-year-old native of El Salvador has “a breather” to remain in the United States while authorities consider reopening his immigration case.

Jose Mendoza Turbin showed up Wednesday morning at the Grand Junction office of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement with his bags packed and an airline ticket to La Libertad Airport in San Salvador.

Mendoza Turbin left the office almost an hour later, not needing the ticket, but with no guarantee he can remain in the country, either.

“My entire body is shaking,” Mendoza Turbin said before approaching the building, and the possibility he would be immediately sent back to his native country.

He still was shaking when he walked back out with his attorney. This time, though, Mendoza Turbin wore a big smile.

He remains under a deportation order that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials could exercise at any time, said Mendoza Turbin’s attorney, Shelley Wittevrongel.

Mendoza Turbin’s expulsion snagged on his request that the Board of Immigration Appeals reopen his plea for asylum.

Mendoza Turbin, though, seems to know about close calls.

He was 17 when his parents packed him out of the San Salvadoran countryside, put him on a bus and sent him north to, they hoped, a safer life in the United States, far from gangs that were trying to recruit him.

That trip covered 1,500 miles in 23 days, and once he made it safely to Texas, he made contact with a friend of his brother, Rafael “Orlando” Mendoza Turbin. Rafael arranged for the last leg of his younger brother’s trip to Glenwood Springs.

When Mendoza Turbin enrolled at Glenwood Springs High School in ninth-grade classes, he seemed about the same as the other English language learners, maybe a bit worse off for having at most a fifth-grade education, said Ginny Badger, an instructional aide at the high school.

Far from fluent in English and studying several years beyond his education, Mendoza Turbin struggled through his first semester, then marked up a consistent 4.0 grade-point average.

He might not be the most intelligent or quickest, but “he’s the most tenacious student I’ve ever worked with,” Badger said.

“He’s pretty amazing,” Rafael said.

Mendoza Turbin didn’t exactly keep his head low once he reached Colorado. Immigration officials might never have heard of him had he not sought asylum within three weeks of arriving in Colorado, Badger said.

Officials so far have turned down his bid for asylum, but it’s his request that his claim be reopened that gave him his breather.

Mendoza Turbin is pursuing another angle, though, and he has plenty of help with it. Immigration officials can allow people to remain in the United States if they find an applicant would provide a significant public benefit.

Mendoza Turbin would offer a significant benefit, Badger said. Now a freshman at Colorado Mountain College, he’s studying to become a registered nurse, an occupation in high demand in the nation and Colorado, Badger said.

Mendoza has a rare gift for combining clinical expertise with sensitivity for patients, Badger said.

His influence among his peers is so strong that five of her students, who most likely would have dropped out, went on to graduate instead, Badger said.

Appreciation goes both ways.

Friends, for instance, donated the airline ticket that Mendoza Turbin hopes he won’t need to use.

Headed back to Glenwood Springs, he was eager to get back to the books, Mendoza Turbin said.

“I feel good,” he said, with a look back at the ICE office, “because I don’t have to be inside there.”


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