For the past two weeks, Jeffrey Lynch, director of enforcement and removal operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Denver field office, has been the target of an ongoing phone-banking campaign coordinated by Yale students advocating for Melecio Andazola Morales, a Colorado resident who was detained for deportation by ICE earlier this month and the father of Viviana Andazola Marquez ’18.

But this is not the first time Lynch has been at the center of an immigration controversy. He made headlines just under eight months ago, after U.S. Representative Jared Polis of Colorado’s Second Congressional District called him a “rogue” ICE agent for not granting Jeanette Vizguerra, an undocumented immigrant living in Colorado, a stay of deportation.

In February, Vizguerra sought sanctuary at a Denver church as she awaited a stay of deportation from ICE following the expiration of an existing stay of removal. This prompted Polis to publicly chide Lynch, who he said broke with ICE protocol by not granting Vizguerra, a mother of four, what he believed should be a “routine” stay of deportation as she pursued legal status. However, in early May, Vizguerra received a two-year stay of deportation. Hans Meyer, the lawyer who represented Vizguerra and now represents Andazola Morales, said he believes the stay was granted by Washington, D.C. Department of Homeland Security officials above Lynch, who did not respond to a request for comment. Vizguerra also told the News that the order came from Washington, and not the local ICE office.

Meyer declined to comment on the professional reputation and character of Lynch and whether it could have any bearing on the Andazola Morales case. The student leaders at La Casa who initiated the phone banking campaign also declined to comment on Lynch.

Jessica Bralish, Polis’s communications director, told the News on Monday evening that their office could not at the time comment on Lynch’s handling of Andazola Morales’s case. Asked about Polis’s comments on her case, Vizguerra said she was glad someone made public what they thought about Lynch.

Polis has made his support for Andazola Morales clear in multiple social media posts and press releases.

“[Andazola Morales] is a valuable, productive member of our community who was in the process of pursuing lawful status in the U.S. when he was baited into an enforcement trap by local immigration officials,” Polis wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “He should be released from detention immediately. I have instructed my staff to do everything in our power to help Melecio and his family.”

Carl Rusnok, a communications director for ICE, told the News that the job of law enforcement officers is to enforce existing laws, adding that ICE field office directors follow ICE policy and execute orders of removal issued by federal immigration judges. He added that personal attacks on ICE officers such as Lynch are both counterproductive and manipulative.

“Name-calling and vilifying these officers does nothing to further positive relationships between ICE and the communities they serve,” Rusnok said. “In addition, impugning a law enforcement officer’s integrity in furtherance of a false narrative is an obvious ploy to draw biased attention and to obscure a clear case of a civil servant enforcing U.S. law.”

In a New York Times Op-Ed published on Tuesday, Andazola Marquez wrote that “what happened to [her father] is not an appropriate application of the law — it is cruelty.” Students and activists alike are calling for Lynch to use his authority to ensure the release of Andazola Morales.

According to ICE protocols, enforcement actions are supposed to prioritize individuals who pose a risk to communities and officers of the agency are required to conduct themselves in accordance with their authorities under federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Andazola Morales first attempted to enter the country at the beginning of 1997 but was detained at the border in Texas and issued an order of exclusion — previously the formal term for the denial of an undocumented immigrant’s entry to the U.S. On Feb. 28, 1997, Andazola Morales was criminally convicted of knowingly possessing a false identification document and intending to use that document to defraud the United States. He was deported on March 10, 1997, after a federal immigration judge ordered that he be removed, but he returned to the U.S undetected in 1998 and has lived in the country ever since.

Still, advocates of Andazola Morales are demanding that Lynch release him, arguing that he is a father of four children and has been a productive citizen — working in construction — for the past 20 years. Even though the order for Andazola Morales’s deportation has already been dispensed by the government, Meyer believes that there is still grounds for his client to be released from detention.

“ICE has the ability to do the right thing in this case,” Meyer said. “That would be to either cancel the reinstatement of Melecio’s 1997 order of exclusion and place him into traditional removal proceedings, or join in a motion to reopen the old exclusion order. This would give Melecio some basic due process in immigration court, and allow him the opportunity to argue the merits of his case — which are extraordinary — to an immigration judge.”

As of Tuesday evening, the petition to release Andazola Morales had over 22,400 signatures.

Britton O’Daly | britton.odaly@yale.edu