Author’s note: The following comes from an article in the Miami Herald by Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein titled “A hopeful odyssey reaches a dead end,” (paywall) dated November 2, 2014.
Jorge Amaya, an undocumented immigrant from México and a cook at a Mexican restaurant in El Paso was sitting before an immigration judge in Miami facing deportation. Amaya’s immigrant journey to becoming an information for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was chronicled by a Miami Herald Reporter in 2014. Amaya’s story, as chronicled by the reporter, is the story of America’s immigration system and the people who enforce immigration laws, those who defy them and those who get caught up in the middle. Although El Paso plays a central role in this saga, it is a Florida news reporter who brings the story to light. In many ways, Amaya’s story is both an insightful look into immigration and how El Paso, who is central to America’s immigration story, is seldom part of the documented history of the immigration saga until news reporters from other communities write the stories about El Paso’s role in the immigration stories.
Take for example the national headlines about children separated at the border by immigration officials under the Trump Administration. El Paso was the pilot program for separating the children from their undocumented parents as part of an enforcement program to deter future undocumented immigrants from crossing the border. It was the New York Times that put the source of the child separation program squarely on El Paso.
It was another news outlet from Virginia that first exposed that El Paso’s immigration judges are the worst federal judges in America’s immigration court. Poignantly, one of the worst is Veronica Escobar’s husband. Another inconvenient immigration fact is that the controversial Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) that made headlines in 2000 when they forcefully removed then-seven-year-old Elián González from a Miami house and deported him to Cuba was created in El Paso. The BORTAC most recently made headlines when it was deployed starting in 2020 by the Trump Administration to quell riots in cities like Buffalo, New York and Washington D.C., among others.
It is against this backdrop that Jorge Amaya’s story begins.
Amaya was regularly meeting federal agents at an El Paso parking lot to provide them with information about migrant smugglers and drug traffickers. Amaya, an undocumented immigrant, had agreed to become an informant for immigration officials in exchange for being allowed to stay in the country.
CBP and other federal agencies that Amaya provided information to refused to confirm his story. However, as reported by the Miami Herald, “a federal official familiar with the case confirmed” that Amaya had worked for CBP.
Amaya, who had been living in the United States since at least 2004, was stopped for a traffic violation and deported in 2012. Three times, Amaya tried to cross the border illegally, each time being caught and incarcerated before being deported again. However, on his third attempt, Amaya agreed to provide information about immigrant smugglers to CBP in return for a “humanitarian parole” visa, a work permit and a social security number.
With his work permit on hand, Amaya moved in with a woman he met at the El Paso restaurant he was working at and provided weekly reports to his CBP handlers about immigrant smugglers.
Amaya went from reporting on immigrant smugglers to providing information about the Juárez cartel to his CBP handlers. One of the drug cartel people that Amaya reported to his CBP handlers was “about a relative of Rafael Caro Quintero.” Caro Quintero, who had been convicted of killing a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Agent in 1985, was a major figure in the Juárez cartel. The relative, of one of the most wanted men in America, was a frequent visitor to the El Paso restaurant where Amaya worked.
Two weeks after taking pictures of the relative and providing them to his handlers, Amaya was taken off an El Paso street at gun point by “three men with shaved heads and gang tattoos.” The three Barrio Azteca gang members ordered him to stop informing to his federal agency handlers about the Juárez cartel, telling him that they knew where he lived in El Paso and about his pregnant girlfriend.
Concerned for his life, Amaya moved to Florida the following day, telling his CBP handlers that he was “scared” for his life. His handlers stopped talking to Amaya and about a month later, Amaya was picked up by immigration agents on August 12, 2014 and put into deportation proceedings.
Amaya was no longer useful to CBP and they revoked his humanitarian visa.
Author’s note: El Paso News contacted the author of the Miami Herald article, Joanna Bernstein, to find out the status of Amaya’s deportation. She had no new information and our search did not reveal any information about Amaya’s status.