CHARLOTTE -- Speaking to a rally outside Charlotte's Immigration Court building, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez called on federal authorities Tuesday to drop the deportation case of a Ridgeland man -- the father of two U.S. citizens -- who has multiple misdemeanor convictions for driving without a license.
"This case should never have been brought forward," the Illinois Democrat said to a mostly Latino crowd. "Getting rid . . . of gang members and drug dealers -- we will assist you. But Gabino is the father of two American citizen children. He is not a criminal."
Gabino is Gabino Sanchez, a 27-year-old construction and landscape worker who stood next to the congressman with his children. He arrived at the rally holding a hand-written sign that read "Who Would Jesus Support?"
Others held signs that read "Stop the Deportations/Keep Our Families Together" and "Born in the USA!!! Don't take my Daddy away!!"
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Gutierrez, who has become a leading advocate for undocumented immigrants, later accompanied Sanchez, his family and his lawyer into a 1 p.m. hearing before a Justice Department judge, who agreed to continue the case until May 15. Gutierrez did not speak at the hearing.
The delay will give Marty Rosenbluth, Sanchez' lawyer, time to gather more information and investigate his client's legal options, he said.
Through his lawyer, Sanchez acknowledged during the 5-minute hearing that he is in the United States illegally.
He came to this country in 1999, crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona. He was 14 at the time and came, Rosenbluth said, to work and send money back to his family in Mexico.
Gutierrez said his reading of a change in policy by the Obama administration meant the law was meant to target for deportation those illegal immigrants who pose a danger to society.
"Does he look like he would pose a threat to national security?" Gutierrez asked at the rally, pointing to Sanchez.
U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement released a statement from ICE's Atlanta office but declined further comment on the Sanchez case.
The agency said that "ICE has adopted clear priorities that call for the agency's enforcement resources to be focused on the identification and removal of those that have broken criminal laws, recently crossed our border, repeatedly violated immigration law or are fugitives from the immigration court."
Federal authorities say Sanchez has nine convictions on misdemeanor traffic violations in South Carolina and Georgia.
Rosenbluth said he can only find eight and said they are likely the result of racial profiling.
"Frankly if it's eight or if it's nine, it's still the same basic point: the only thing he has on his record is driving without a license," Rosenbluth said. "Why is he being stopped for driving without a license without failure to stop at a red light or stop sign or anything? Why was he pulled over?"
Reporter Allison Stice contributed to this story. Follow her at twitter.com/LCBlotter.