published Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Whitfield County soccer star must leave country after title match

Bernabe Rangel, left, and Southeast Whitfield High School's soccer coach Jamison Griffin, right,  watch as their team plays a soccer match against North Hall High School in Dalton, Ga. Griffin has put a lot of effort into keeping Rangel from being deported this month.
Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Bernabe Rangel, left, and Southeast Whitfield High School's soccer coach Jamison Griffin, right, watch as their team plays a soccer match against North Hall High School in Dalton, Ga. Griffin has put a lot of effort into keeping Rangel from being deported this month. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press

If the Southeast Whitfield Raiders win their game tonight against top-ranked St. Pius X of Atlanta, Bernabe Rangel will play for the Georgia Class AAA soccer championship Saturday.

Two days later, the standout midfielder for the Dalton, Ga., high school will be deported to Mexico.

“I’d love to stay here. Who wouldn’t?” said Rangel, a four-year starter for the Raiders. “Some of the teachers ask me if I’m scared, and I’m not. They worry, but I tell them that God’s always there.”

He and his teammates were Class AAAA state runners-up in 2008 and are 20-1 and ranked third in AAA this season.

Rangel will be deported three days before his 19th birthday.

His tale “could be pitched to a movie producer,” Raiders coach Jamison Griffin said. “This kid has been through a lot.”

A seemingly routine event last year — a teenager accepting a Nintendo DS — sent Rangel’s life into a tailspin and left his college plans in America in limbo.

Rangel said a friend gave him the Nintendo game and asked him to “hold it.” The next day, he was called into an assistant principal’s office and asked if he had it. He said yes. It turned out the game was stolen.

He was arrested and charged with theft by receiving, a Class A misdemeanor. That charge was dropped after Rangel performed community service, according to Griffin. But it triggered the involvement of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement because Rangel was in the country illegally.

He arrived with his parents and older brother when Bernabe was 6, and he began to attend Dalton schools. He hasn’t been back to Mexico since.

Whitfield County, under a federal program, has one of 69 state and local law enforcement agencies in 24 states whose officers can perform immigration law-enforcement functions.

Four Georgia counties and Davidson County in Tennessee participate in the 287(g) program.

Whitfield County launched its 287(g) program in 2008 and now has nine officers trained in immigration duties. The county sent about 350 inmates to ICE in 2008, with the number growing to 400 in 2009 and to 600 last year, according to a news release from the county.

Griffin and a lawyer working pro bono tried to help Rangel avoid deportation. Now their efforts are to help him return to the United States “the right way,” Griffin said.

Multiple calls made to Temple Black, the New Orleans-based Southeastern public affairs officer for ICE, were not returned. The United States had 393,000 deportations in the 2010 fiscal year. Nearly half — 195,000 — were for what were considered criminal offenses.


Rangel’s parents, like many Mexicans living in Dalton, moved to the United States for jobs.

His father and brother work in the city’s carpet mills that over the years have drawn many immigrants — legal and illegal — from Mexico, Guatemala and other Central and South American countries. His mother stays at home and takes care of his younger cousins.

Nearly half the people in Dalton and one out of three in Whitfield County are Hispanic, according to information from the 2010 census. Hispanic students account for more than 80 percent of students in some Dalton schools.

The rapid growth of Georgia’s immigrant population spurred not only widespread anti-immigration sentiment, but tougher immigration laws.

In 2006, Georgia passed what at the time was considered one of the toughest immigration enforcement laws in the country, which made it harder for illegal immigrants to receive health care, higher education and other public benefits. And Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is expected this week to sign new legislation that is even stricter. It allows police officers to ask about the legal status of anyone they stop for other reasons.

According to a Pew Hispanic Center report released in February, Georgia ranks seventh in the nation for states with illegal immigration, behind California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. An estimated 425,000 unauthorized immigrants live in Georgia, about 4.4 percent of the total population, and about 325,000 hold jobs, comprising about 7 percent of the state’s labor force.

Once he is deported, Rangel will live with his grandparents in Guanajuato, Mexico.

“It’s going to be hard for him because he’s adapted to the culture of the United States,” said his cousin Patricia Rodriguez, who also lives in Dalton. “He’ll have family there with grandparents, aunts and uncles, but he’s leaving his family and the place he grew up at and starting all over.”

Coach Griffin and Rangel’s lawyer and family are hoping to secure a student visa that would allow him to re-enter the United States.

With the coach spurring cooperation from the Southeast faculty and staff, Rangel is on track to fulfill graduation requirements before leaving although he will be deported before Southeast holds its graduation ceremony.

“This whole situation has given me a new perspective on things,” Griffin said. “Yes, Bernabe is an illegal immigrant, but he’s not here because he’s done anything wrong, but because it was a choice his family made because of the job opportunities they were told America would give them.”

Rodriguez, who acts as the family’s primary interpreter and spokesperson, said the Rangels now understand everything that’s going on with Bernabe, but they still have questions about the situation that got him to this point.

“They wonder why this is all happening to them,” Rodriguez said. “The whole situation [with the game system] could have been handled in school. Why wasn’t there a conference or something? We should at least have had that.”

Rodriguez said that if Bernabe is not able to work out a U.S. return, his family probably will move back to Mexico, too.


On July 7, 2010, Rangel, Griffin and the attorney went to Atlanta for a meeting with ICE. At the time, Rangel’s case worker wasn’t present, but the one assigned to them told the group to report back in September.

When they showed up, court officers slammed Rangel on the desk and arrested him, citing a failure-to-appear violation for a July 11 court date for his immigration case, Rangel said.

“We didn’t know anything about that court date,” Griffin said. “If they knew we had a court date on the 11th, why didn’t they tell us?”

Rangel was shocked by the arrest.

“I thought everything was cool,” he said. “I thought I would just go to the check-in and come right back out.”

Instead, he was taken to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga.

His fourth day there, he called Griffin with the news that he was about to be bused to the airport for deportation to Mexico. Griffin called the attorney, who immediately filed an emergency motion to have Rangel’s case heard.

By the time the judge granted the motion, Rangel was in line to get on the airplane for deportation. He was returned to the detention center, where he spent a total of 30 days.

“I just got into a routine,” Rangel said. “I got up at 5 a.m., ate breakfast and went outside, because when I was in my cell, all I did was think, and I didn’t want to think about things.”

He said he felt isolated.

“I didn’t know anything going on on the outside,” Rangel said. “I wondered when I would get out. I wanted to get out right away, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

“I started going to a group that got together at 7 at night and talked about God. I really wasn’t into that before, but now it’s so much different. Sometimes you go through things like this, and you have to learn from it.”

Upon his release, Rangel was given a January date for a court hearing. That later was continued to Tuesday in Atlanta, where he showed proof that he has travel plans to be back in Mexico before his birthday.


In his final days in the United States, Rangel is enjoying his soccer team’s run.

“It’s what I look forward to,” he said. “When I get to practice or a game, I’m able to get my mind off things. I could look at it like I’m alone, but I’m not. My team is like my family. If I’m having a bad day, I get to practice and it’s like I’m starting a new day. They bring me up.”

He’s hoping for an upset win tonight on the home field of Georgia’s No. 1 Class AAA team.

“All I want to do is to go back to the state finals and win it all,” Rangel said. “It would mean the world to me.”

Griffin noted that he and Rangel “didn’t get along so well at first. He actually tried to quit his sophomore and junior years. But this experience has brought us closer.”

Rangel is grateful.

“What Coach has done means everything to me,” Rangel said. “He was the only one who came to see me while I was locked up. He’s been there the whole time, telling me what to do.”

Griffin downplays his involvement.

“This story doesn’t have anything to do with me,” he said. “More than anything, we’re just trying to promote awareness on the situation that this happens. It’s changed me in so many ways. Bernabe didn’t ask for any of this. He’s just trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

Rangel has an opportunity to attend and play soccer at a private college in Georgia, should he be able to return.

“If I got that opportunity, it would mean a different life,” he said. “It would give me something to fight for, something to keep me going.”

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timesfreepress said...

Do you think the United States needs immigration reform?

May 10, 2011 at 11:17 p.m.
JeffersonLives said...

"The real difference between democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few of many, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is democracy". -Aristotle

May 11, 2011 at 6:41 a.m.
dao1980 said...

Oops! It's always embarrassing when one of your star players turns out to be in the country illegally.

Reminds me of a buddy that was finally busted hanging out in Australia after his work visa had expired. He was playing soccer and making some good cash as a guitarist in a local band. He tried to stay as "below the radar" as his lifestyle would allow, but in the end, he had to come back home because he wasn't a legal citizen of the country that he was "kicking" around in.

May 11, 2011 at 8:32 a.m.
kelleyblevins said...

This country's ineffective and mostly incompetent leaders are the result of the last generation's leaders who were overcome with greed. Now we are ALL paying the price. From the national level all the way down to our local representatives, the future is not looking positive for improvement and change.

Just take a look at how Chattanooga's political leaders try to censor what is read in Chattanooga newspaper.

Are we living in our own Syria?

May 11, 2011 at 8:33 a.m.
Wilder said...

"Rangel said a friend gave him the Nintendo game and asked him to “hold it.” The next day, he was called into an assistant principal’s office and asked if he had it. He said yes. It turned out the game was stolen."

He is receiving exactly what he deserves. If our immigration laws were enforced he wouldn't be here in the first place. One can assume that his parents and siblings are illegal aliens also. The question is, why not provide him with company by deporting the entire family? This would at least take some burden off of the taxpayers who are forced to pay the cost to school them, and likely open up a couple of jobs in a town with massive unemployment.

May 11, 2011 at 10:30 a.m.

"Do you think the United States needs immigration reform?"

No...... we need more Taco Bell's.

May 11, 2011 at 1:46 p.m.
bigguy said...

Why did they not already send him back??? To play in a soccer game?

May 11, 2011 at 8:33 p.m.
hcirehttae said...

“Yes, Bernabe is an illegal immigrant, but he’s not here because he’s done anything wrong, but because it was a choice his family made because of the job opportunities they were told America would give them.” "Bernabe didn’t ask for any of this. He’s just trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

What a lot of excusifying! Nice use of the passive voice: "they were told." (Not by me!) These quotations make it sound like a tree fell and broke his passport, a tornado hit his immigration status, or some Act of God made him suddenly appear in the United States. No one's trying to throw this - I'm sure - fine young man in jail because of this petty criminal incident. That would be way overreacting. However, he needs to go back to Mexico, and his family too. They are here illegally. They are part of a larger problem, of an underclass of non-English fluent immigrants who work for sub-living wages, do not subscribe to American laws, and do not assimilate into the multicultural American society, even after several generations.

I do not hate them; nobody wishes them ill; I do not want to see them discriminated again or treated badly. But they do not have a right to be here just because they managed to evade detection as they crossed the border years ago. The law is not mocked. If they want to immigrate lawfully and assimilate into the United States' democratic society, as so many nationalities have over hundreds of years, they are welcome. But whether they're from Mexico, Ireland, or Antarctica, they need to go back to their home country if they haven't followed our nation's laws about immigration.

May 12, 2011 at 7:27 a.m.
justcurious said...

Just read this story, and I ask all of you who have posted before me. How does a 6-year old know to get a passport? I get that he's here illegally, but the parents made the decision to move here - not the kid. From how it sounds, America is all the kid knows.

May 12, 2011 at 5:47 p.m.
aortiz said...

as i read these comments i feel sad. more then anything i feel mad.put yourself in this kids shoes number one he didn't ask to be born in mexico,just like we didn't ask to be born in the USA we were just blessed that's just where God choose to put us.As a mother i would never be able to be apart from my kid.especially a whole country apart.i know this boy personally he is a very respectful young you shouldn't judge him.did you ever make a mistake as a young one or have you always been perfect? you should give thanks to god that you are born a USA citizen ,you don't have to go though everything his family has ...i pray for people like you guys that live in hatred know in heaven theres going to be every color in the rainbow cause my god is color blind he loves us all & we are all brothers & sisters in his eyes . in bernabe hang in there honey god has a plan for you .

May 12, 2011 at 11:15 p.m.
dao1980 said...

Hey aortiz, since you wuz.. already gonna be harassin God with a bunch of selfish requests.. can you drop a line in there for me?

I'm thinkin lottery or big promotion or something.

Let me know what it says.

May 13, 2011 at 10:15 a.m.
hcirehttae said...

aortiz -- read this again:

"I do not hate them; nobody wishes them ill; I do not want to see them discriminated again or treated badly. But they do not have a right to be here just because they managed to evade detection as they crossed the border years ago."

It's not about hatred, it's about fairness. What if everyone in the world who wanted to move to the United States was suddenly here - presto - bang - they're here? That could easily be about 2 billion people at once. Is the answer just to let anyone come (and stay) who's clever or cunning enough to get here by breaking the rules?

My grandfather (and probably a relative of yours) followed the rules and came here according to the law at the time, and learned English, and his kids went to college, etc. etc. If he had come here illegally, he would have been deported, and my dad would have been sent back, and I would have grown up in a different country. So it goes. Maybe I would have been happier growing up in the Old Country, but we'll never know. That's just life in the historical scope of things. Societies form governments and set rules, and sometimes people move and migrate around for a variety of reasons, some of them benign and some of them tragic.

Immigration and national boundaries are a political issue, not a spiritual one. Let's leave God out of the faultfinding. He's actually not responsible for the occasional unfairness and arbitrariness of human life, and it seems petty of you to blame it on Him.

May 13, 2011 at 11:42 a.m.
aortiz said...

im not blaming anyone but you guys are not worth my time. but i think its funny how you put (he may be my relative) .it just shows u think im a mexican because maybe my user name well im not im a u.s.a girl born raised....yall have a good n blessed day n yea i will pray for you :)

May 13, 2011 at 5:44 p.m.
primos said...

why are you guys hating on him i have known this guy since middle school, he would never do anything bad and like the article says he has been here since he was 6 he grew up in this country.. i know it's wrong to be here illegally but it's not like he made the decision to come here his parents did and maybe all they wanted was to give him the opportunity to go to school since in mexico its really expensive even to go to middle school you guys just love to hate... and by the way he will be leaving to Mex. this weekend and he will return in about a month in time to start college and i know he s going to succeed something that some of you probably never did th only thing that really sucks is that he wont be able to walk during our graduation but he will walk when he graduates college :) let them haters talk knobee because god has better plans for you keep ya head up bro..

May 13, 2011 at 9:48 p.m.
nucanuck said...

Not many years ago, people from all over the world wanted to come to America. That story has now faded and America is seen as a country in decline. We are beginning to hear stories now about Americans wishing to emigrate, but not being able to move to their country of preference.

When political and economic decline set in, perspectives can change radically.

BTW, Guanajuato, Mexico is a pretty nice area.

May 14, 2011 at 10:13 a.m.
JOlove93 said...

All You rasist white people need to shut the f up . I woule like to see how you feel if meico was like the unsited states and no one wanted yall here hu and all your family was there n school and work n house and you had nuthing back there hu how would u feel so why don't yall rasist fckrs do me a favor and shut the f up

May 22, 2011 at 6:01 p.m.
haleypaige said...

= <---- Does eveyone know what that is?? It makes me sick when I read some of these comments. Last time I checked we all have blood pumping through our veins. Also let me bring this to everyones attention, We ARE ALL HUMAN. No one should be treated less. And for some of these people to say that he deserved to get deported and his family too??? Oh and I read that someone was whining that thats where their tax dollars are going to. Well why doesn't everybody open their freaking big eyes and look around at the obvious. The "illegals" are here. They work for a better life and a better oppurtunity for their children. If the "illegals could get at least a green card they could pay taxes when they work. I'm pretty sure they would be glad to do so. But because Our stuburn country has it through their thick skull that they need to go back to where they came from the "illegals don't have a chance. But the real reason why we have this problem now is because the "white" man is scared of a little competion. And If the "white" man is educated in economics they will know that competion is a good thing. Apparently everyone needs to look at their family tree. When it comes down to it we are all foreigners. Maybe even Illegals because i bet those ancestors from england and ireland came to this country Illegally. Anyways I know theres always gonna be haters. Bernabe is a good person! I'm sure his family is as well. Also I want all of yall to know that the way the government is now it's gonna fall. It won't be like this for long. Oh and to everyone who claims to be a man of God, I don't think God would approve of this behavior. But who am I to say anything? Right. Because I'm a woman these people probably also think I have no voice. I'll be glad when the day comes that we can all live in peace. It may never happen until heaven comes but until then I will FIGHT for equality no matter what you are. And yall best believe that.

May 22, 2011 at 9:10 p.m.
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