Imprisoned former gang counselor learns of deportation hearing on eve of scheduled release
Andres Romero, perhaps better known to Pasadena residents as volunteer gang counselor Andrew Romero, recently served most of a 10-year state prison sentence for a crime that could have landed him behind bars for the remainder of his life under the state’s three-strikes law.
Grateful for a lighter sentence, which was granted after Romero received qualified support for his volunteer work from a number of local leaders, among them former Pasadena police Chief Bernard Melekian, Romero acknowledged then that the months leading up to his arrest on an attempted burglary charge “were some of the worst times of my life.”
Unfortunately, however, the worst for Romero may be yet to come.
On Dec. 22, the day that he was set to be released from California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in Norco, Romero learned that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were reviewing his citizenship status in order to determine whether he should be deported to Mexico.
Born in Tijuana, Romero came to the United States with his parents at the age of 2 and has been living mostly in the Pasadena area over the past 51 years. In addition, Romero’s wife of 33 years, Cheryl, and their four grown children were all born in this country.
“I’m hoping and praying they leave me alone and let me go home,” Romero said in a phone interview.
But instead of being released, Romero was taken to a federal office in San Bernardino. From there, he was placed in the Pomona City Jail for three days before being shipped to the ICE detention center in Adelanto, a small town near Victorville, where he awaits a deportation hearing. Romero said he faced a similar hearing in 1995, after being released from prison following his second conviction for drug possession, but was set free. Now, with stricter immigration laws in place, a convicted misdemeanant may have a chance at release, but not a convicted felon, according to one top Pasadena police official.
Ever faithful, Cheryl Romero held out hope for her husband’s release.
“It can only get better now. It can’t get any worse,” she said. “I’m hoping he’s out by New Year’s. I want to start out the New Year right.”
Dejected and depressed, Andres Romero is convinced he will be sent to Mexico.
“If I get deported, that will be a life sentence,” Romero said. “I just don’t think that’s fair or just … People ask me why I never got citizenship. Because I am an American at heart. I was raised here, I worked here and I contributed here,” he said. “This is my country and it will always be my country.”