Palomar College student leader is deported
By: NOELLE IBRAHIM - Staff Writer
SAN MARCOS -- The president of a Latino student group at Palomar College has been deported to Mexico after she and close relatives were arrested in their Escondido home, immigration officials confirmed Friday.
Paola Oropeza, a 22-year-old advertising and marketing major at Palomar, was arrested Jan. 8 by a fugitive operations team with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for the agency in San Diego.
Oropeza was president of Palomar's chapter of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), a national organization that advocates community service and academic success for Latino students, in addition to promoting awareness of Chicano issues and history. Recent club activities include a holiday toy drive for needy children, hosting a "Night of Culture" and celebrating Cesar Chavez Day on campus.
"I was shocked and upset," said John Valdez, MEChA adviser and multicultural studies professor at Palomar. "It's been very distressing to have this happen."
Oropeza could not be reached on her cell phone for comment Friday.
The student had been ordered to leave the country by an immigration judge, but she failed to comply with that order, said Mack. She could not provide details about Oropeza's immigration background, but said she did not have a criminal record.
"She was one of many other people arrested that day after being targeted as part of an ongoing fugitive enforcement program," Mack said.
Oropeza was arrested with three others who are believed to be her relatives, said Mack. Valdez, who said he received a distressed phone call from Oropeza after she was placed in detention, later identified the people as Oropeza's mother, father and older sister. The sister is still in deportation proceedings, while Oropeza and her parents were taken to Tijuana, according to Valdez.
"Paola was very much traumatized," Valdez said, describing the phone call. "She was raised here, she grew up here. The family is looking into legal support to help their situation."
In the nearly two years he has known Oropeza, Valdez said they had never discussed her legal status.
"I had no idea," said Valdez. "The thought never occurred to me."
Valdez described Oropeza as a studious, quiet person who was a productive MEChA president for two semesters.
"As a result of her leadership, MEChA grew in attendance and we were able to put together successful activities because of her work," he said. "I was impressed with the way she carried herself. I never saw her angry or speaking down to anyone."
Oropeza was poised to complete her transfer requirements during the upcoming spring semester at Palomar, which starts Tuesday.
"Her world has been turned upside down," he said.
Contact staff writer Noelle Ibrahim at (760) 740-3517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.