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Pastor's story follows Bush

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | JUNE 18, 2015 5:00 AM

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WASHINGTON, Iowa — The narrative of Mennonite pastor Max Villatoro was thrust into presidential politics on Wednesday.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke at the home of Adam and Teresa Mangold during his first trip to the state since formally announcing his campaign.

During an open Q&A session, Bush was asked about Villatoro’s situation and his broader stances on immigration policies.

Bush’s outspoken views in favor of comprehensive immigration reform prompted Iowa political watchers to predict that he may face some tough questions.

In a wide-ranging answer lasting over seven minutes, Bush extolled his true-north virtues while chiding — in his view— those like Hillary Rodham Clinton and unnamed Republican hopefuls who change their because not everyone agrees with him or her.

“What I’ve learned in my political life and just being Jeb is that you can’t bend with the wind,” he said defiantly. “I believe what I believe, and I believe in comprehensive immigration reform because I know that it will help us create high sustained economic growth where more people can achieve success.“

Villatoro’s March deportation received considerable statewide attention after demonstrations and a petition drive failed to prevent his forced return to Honduras.

The 41-year-old led Torre Fuerte, a Spanish-speaking congregation at First Mennonite Church, 405 Myrtle Ave, in Iowa City.

A five-day nationwide operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement known as “cross check” led to arrest of more than 2,000 people including Villatoro.

Aliese Gingerich, 22, asked Bush the question about Villatoro. Afterwards she said that she was pleased with the governor’s support for deferred action for childhood arrivals, a program President Obama created by executive order in 2012. Bush wants Congress to ratify the program instead of using the president’s approach.

While Iowa may be far removed from the U.S. border with Mexico, one of the ways undocumented immigrants enter the country, the issue has touched the state a number of times over the years. National attention descended on the state after a May 2008 raid in Postville led to arrest of 389 workers.

“Economically why would we not to be taking advantage of people’s human capital that they are bringing and enabling them to work in their professions rather than having to work in a meat packing plant, because they are scared of getting deported,” Gingerich.

The pastor was targeted due to a 17-year-old OWI conviction.

Born in Honduras, Villatoro crossed the U.S. border illegally when he was 20 years old. According to accounts published on the church’s website, Villatoro obtained a Social Security number on the black market in the 1990s. In 1999, Villatoro was convicted of tampering with records, an aggravated misdemeanor, and sentenced to two years’ probation with suspended jail time.

More than a couple of hundred protested Villatoro’s arrest, which they said failed to take into account the many positive changes the father of four made in his life.

“He did everything that the court required of him, if there wasn’t question about his immigration status he would have been able to move on with his life,” said Matt Hildreth, digital director at American voices — a national immigration advocacy organization. “If he was a threat to national security would have been picked up long ago.”

Hildreth and Gingerich hope ultimately that one day Villatoro will be reunited with his family. But they concede such an opportunity is unlikely.

“In general, the system is not in Max’s favor,” Hildreth said. “It’s really hard to do; I’ve heard about cases like that have happened before, but it is not easy to do.”


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