Otto Morales-Caballeros came to the U.S. alone as a teenager to flee violence in his native Guatemala. He stayed here to work, pay taxes, marry — and help the U.S. government make a case against people who exploit immigrants like him. On Thursday, the 37-year-old Naples resident was deported, targeted by a mean and misguided federal crackdown that’s treating responsible working people like dangerous criminals.

Though the U.S. typically deports hundreds of thousands of people each year, immigration enforcement efforts shifted focus in 2014 to gang members, felons and others who represent real threats to national security, border security and public safety.

But the Trump administration is casting a far wider net. Immigration arrests in the first quarter of 2017 rose by a third over the same time last year — and arrests of people without criminal records more than doubled, CBC News reported May 2.

“In practical terms,” CBC News reporter Matt Kwong wrote, “unauthorized immigrants settled in the U.S. as law-abiding residents, including some with citizen spouses, are now as vulnerable to removal proceedings as serious criminals.”

That’s as good a summary as any of the plight of Maine’s Morales-Caballeros. He’d been in the U.S. for over 20 years, during which time he’d married his longtime girlfriend, a woman from Maine named Sandra Scribner Merlim, and become a conscientious, well-liked employee of a Saco lobster processing company.

Then came April 12. The life he’d made was disrupted when he was arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on an outstanding deportation order from 2010.

According to his wife, Moralles-Caballeros is being removed from the country because he’d pleaded guilty in 2013 to a felony (using a fake Social Security card to get a job) — even though he’d been told by Homeland Security officials that because he’d helped them with their investigation of the forgers, he could remain in the U.S. as long as he stayed out of legal trouble. (Questioned by the Lakes Region Weekly, ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer wouldn’t comment directly on the informal agreement described by Merlim.)

At the time of Morales-Caballeros’ arrest, he and Merlim had been waiting for a response to their federal petition for him to become a permanent U.S. resident, which they filed after their 2015 marriage. And before the election of Donald Trump, the U.S. government might have decided to process the petition instead of sending Morales-Caballeros back to a country he hasn’t seen in over 20 years.

Otto Morales-Cabelleros and others like him are being demonized as lawbreakers bent on undermining public safety. But the fear mongering and xenophobia behind our current immigration policies are a far greater threat to our way of life — what will it take for us to recognize that?

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