PHOENIX – Friends and students of volunteer high school track coach Miguel Aparicio expressed Tuesday their regrets that the 37-year-old Mexican immigrant was deported after more than 20 years in the United States helping young people in his community.
Aparicio’s grandmother brought him to the United States when he was 15. He was able to finish high school and in 1997 became a volunteer coach at Phoenix’s South Mountain High School.
Working as an electrician to pay the bills, he later moved on to Cesar Chavez High School and then to Alhambra High, where he coached the cross-country team to state titles.
Aparicio’s legal problems began in 2009 when he was detained for going through a red light, an infraction that added to an old DUI offense on his record landed him in the deportation process.
He gave himself up voluntarily to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hoping for a “miracle” that never came.
“It’s an injustice to deport a person who has done so much for the kids in this community,” the coach’s friend Mario Shobert told Efe.
He said that Aparicio talked a lot with young people, not only about the importance of playing a sport, but also about how they had to complete their studies and obey their parents.
“He often used his own money to buy sneakers for students who were too broke to buy their own,” Shobert said.
Though Aparicio’s grandmother is a legal U.S. resident, the coach had no other way to legalize his immigration status during all this time, his lawyer, Jose Luis Peñaloza, told Efe.
“A lot of people don’t understand how complicated immigration laws are – it’s almost impossible that people like Aparicio can obtain legal status if they don’t have either an American parent or spouse,” Peñaloza said.
Aparicio was deported Monday to Mexico. After being away for more than 20 years, he returns for the first time to his native Mexico City.
“It will be very hard for him. I think he’ll try to look up a friend or relative there,” the lawyer said.
Since Aparicio was deported by an immigration judge, his penalty includes not being allowed to return legally to the United States for the next 10 years.
“I’m very disillusioned with the system. People like the coach who do so much good for the community should be allowed to stay,” Heberto Chavez, one of the many youths who learned from what the coach taught them, told Efe.
He says the federal government should concentrate its resources on people who commit serious crimes related to drugs and firearms, and not penalize those whose only crime is not having a Social Security number.
Aparicio worked 12 seasons as a volunteer coach.
His greatest success came at Alhambra High, where he and head coach Carlos Borja took the team to state championship victories in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The work of these coaches was also instrumental in getting college scholarships for 10 of their athletes.
But for critics of undocumented immigration in Arizona, the coach’s deportation is simply “obeying the laws.”
Carmen Cornejo, an activist who launched an Internet campaign to stop Aparicio’s deportation, said that in spite of everything, the fight must go one to prevent more cases like this one from happening. EFE