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Deported after trying to do the right thing for more than two decades

Victor Pacheco planted, trimmed and harvested the grapes and raspberries at the Diller-Raby farm in Lewiston for more than two decades.

Over time, he became foreman, moved into the rent-free trailer near the main house, got married and became a fixture in the community. He was a welcome addition to the Raby family.

But on a warm afternoon last month, Pacheco found himself face to face with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers while coming out of a KeyBank branch in Lewiston.

He was arrested on the spot, detained and, 13 days later, deported back to Mexico.

"I didn't even see a judge," he said in a telephone interview from Mexico. "I told them, 'Why are you arresting me?' I did everything right."

The shock of Pacheco's forced departure is still evident in the people who grew to know him in the 23 years he lived and worked in Lewiston.

For many, there is no better example of what's wrong with President Trump's immigration crackdown and the notion that everyone, even those working here legally, should be at risk of arrest and deportation.

Victor Pacheco.

Pacheco acknowledges coming here illegally, but said he sought and received permission to stay after his marriage in 2006.

ICE says that Pacheco's arrival here was his second illegal entry. He has a prior felony conviction in Texas. So neither his work status nor his marriage to an American woman ever protected him from deportation, the agency says.

The agency also acknowledges that its new "everyone is fair game" enforcement contributed to his arrest.

"ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement," the agency said in a statement about Pacheco.

Setting down roots

Well-known and well-established in the community, Pacheco married an American citizen 11 years ago, and the two made a life for themselves working the Diller-Raby farm.

Even more important, perhaps, Pacheco was known to immigration officials. Friends and family say he checked in with ICE every three months, and for the past 10 years he had a valid government-issued Employment Authorization Card.

"He was like my brother, and I feel like we lost him," Kelly Raby said.

The Rabys alternate between sadness at what their friend is going through and anger at what the government's actions mean to the seventh-generation family farm.

"National security is a big thing for me," said Seth Raby, who has family in the military. "But I also believe that when people come here, follow the rules and embrace our country, why would you go after them?"

The Rabys will tell you that what changed was Donald Trump and that, even before his arrest last month, Pacheco sensed he was at risk of deportation.

"The day Trump was elected, he changed," Kelly Raby said of Pacheco.

Permission to stay

Now 46, Pacheco acknowledges coming to the country illegally in his early 20s, but he says he sought and received permission to stay after his marriage in 2006.

ICE officials tell a different story. They say Pacheco, also known as Pacheco-Chavira, was previously charged and convicted in Texas of illegally entering the country and, at the time of his arrest last month, was here unlawfully.

They also say Pacheco was ordered for deportation in 2006. However, a letter from ICE that same year indicates he was given permission to stay and that he was ordered to wear an ankle-bracelet for one year.

"I did everything I needed to do," Pacheco said during the recent telephone interview from Mexico.

Then what changed?

"It's the new administration," said his wife, Jamie Pacheco. "They're cleaning house."

Had he not been deported, Victor Pacheco — who spent more than two decades working at the Diller-Raby farm in Lewiston — would by now have repaired this and other posts damaged by the fall harvest. Seth Raby is not sure he'll be able to find someone to replace Pacheco. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

It's no secret ICE has stepped up its enforcement, and local officials of the agency have made it clear New York is no longer a "safe haven" for undocumented immigrants. ICE arrests across upstate increased 25 percent last year.

When asked about Pacheco, the agency referred to its new enforcement strategy and its very public warning that all undocumented immigrants are now at risk.

"All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States," the agency said in its statement.

Arrest and deportation

Now in Mexico living with his mother, Pacheco said he came here illegally. After meeting his future wife, he said, he sought status as an authorized migrant worker. He did that in 2007, according to his wife,  and his Employment Authorization Card was still valid when he was arrested last month.

Jamie Pacheco, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia and recently moved back in with her parents, said she understands the need to "weed out the bad people," but why her husband of 11 years?

"Every three months, he called in," she said. "He wasn't in violation in any way."

The day before her husband was arrested, Jamie Pacheco said his ICE officer called and asked him to check in at the Batavia Detention Center. She said Pacheco was nervous about the meeting.

The next day, he and a friend went to KeyBank with the intention of adding his friend's name to his accounts, Jamie Pacheco said. Her husband wanted to ensure his bills would get paid in the event he was deported.

When the two men came out, Pacheco was arrested.

News of the arrest soon spread, and several people who knew Pacheco came forward to protest what one of them called President Trump's efforts to "break up a family."

"He was always joking," Antonio Duenas said of Pacheco. "He was always friendly, down to earth, a cool guy to hang out with."

Duenas, a training supervisor at Pathstone, a local human service agency, said Pacheco was eager to get his commercial driving license and would come in at least twice a week for help.

"With everything going on with the current administration, everything seems to be getting worse for the migrants," he said. "And it's hurting everyone."

Among those hurting are the Rabys and their family farm.

Seth Raby, who works a second job in addition to the farm, is looking for someone to replace Pacheco but knows it will be difficult, if not impossible. He also wonders if family farms eventually will find themselves crippled by the immigration crackdown.

"They removed Victor in the name of making the border safer," Raby said, "but there is no one safer than Victor."

With family in the military, Raby said he understands the need to protect the border but that it angers him when he realizes hard-working immigrants like Pacheco are also getting rounded up.

"This guy never took a dime of unemployment," Raby said. "He paid taxes. He paid Social Security. He proved himself to us years ago."

Eager to have him back, Pacheco's wife is working with a local immigration lawyer in an effort to reverse his deportation.

Her husband, meanwhile, remains in Mexico.

"I hope I can come back," Victor Pacheco said. "I want to spend the rest of my life with my wife."

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