After spending nearly two years at an immigrant detention center in rural Wisconsin, 26-year-old Francisco Morales was released on bond Friday — and pulled off a Mother’s Day surprise Sunday.
“I thought he was coming back Monday, that’s what he told me,” Morales’ mom, Adriana Torres, 46, said. “I was so excited to hold him, to hug him. It was so hard not knowing how he was doing, how they were treating him, if he was eating or not.
“This is the best gift a mother could ever ask for,” she said.
Morales has twice been granted asylum, but government prosecutors appealed both rulings. Immigration authorities were unwilling to release Morales as the appeals made their way through the courts, so his lawyers sued for his freedom in federal court last month.
“It still feels unreal to me that I’m back. It only hit me once I saw the skyline from the highway. That’s when I felt my heart flutter,” Morales said.
Morales was picked up from the Dodge County jail by Arianna Salgado, a member of Organized Communities Against Deportations, an activist group based in Chicago. The group posted his $1,500 bond.
“We brought him a change of clothes and a mask,” Salgado said. “The entire car ride we listened to all of his favorite songs. He caught up on all of his favorite artists that released music while he was inside.”
Morales was born in Mexico and came to the United States in 2007 at age 13 without proper authorization. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took Morales into custody in September 2018 and placed him in deportation proceedings.
An immigration judge granted Morales asylum in April 2019 and again in February because he faces “a substantial risk of torture” if he’s deported to Mexico due to “his severe mental health illnesses, his lack of familial support, and his sexual orientation,” the judge wrote. Morales has severe anxiety and depression, among other mental illnesses.
Government prosecutors appealed both rulings, which remain pending. Keren Zwick, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center representing Morales, said the 26-year-old “will be out in the world while his case is resolved” as long as he stays clear of the law.
Having been out for three days, Morales said he still carries the stressors of being locked behind bars. “I have nightmares about being detained, about ICE coming after me,” he said.
But Morales is ready to be patient with himself and learn to enjoy his newfound freedom.
“It’s weird to think that for almost two years of my life, I was in [detention] wishing I could give my mother a hug or being able to help my brother with his homework — and it takes me a minute to realize that I can, that I’ll finally to be a part of my family again,” he said.
“It gives me a peace of mind.”
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.