Elk Grove -- They were heading to Travis Air Force base to work on a construction project when two men were detained for being in the country illegally. Now, facing deportation any day, one of the men is appealing to the public's compassion.
Hugo Mejia cannot believe this is happening.
"I never been in jail like a criminal," Mejia said.
But for the last 18 days he's been in Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove by order of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. After 16 years in America, he could be deported any day -- leaving behind a wife and three children and his home.
"My kids, they grow up here, for us this is our country," he said.
Mejia said in his time in the U.S. he's tried to be careful and avoid law enforcement.
"I know I am illegal in this country, so I have to do everything right," he said.
However, he and a coworker, Rodrigo Nunez, were arrested when they tried to enter Travis Air Force Base to do construction work. Mejia said he thought he would be working at a hospital and didn't realize he would have to enter military property. Security checked their ID and found out they were in the country illegally.
Mejia says his only motive for coming into and staying in the country has always been providing for his family, and offering opportunities he said were not available in Mexico. According to Mejia, he married young and was in school to become an engineer, but when he learned he had a second baby on the way, school was no longer an option. He had to do what he could to support his family, Mejia tells Fox40.
In some cases, an ICE detainee has the right to go before a judge who will decide whether or not they get deported. However Mejia is on a deportation fast track because he was caught crossing into the country illegally from Mexico once before.
He has just one hope for being able to stay: if his lawyer can make the case that he would be in danger if he was deported to Mexico, then he could qualify for a deportation hearing. He hopes speaking out will help.
"We have to do something at least the people know our case and decide if we're good for this country," Mejia said.
His message is reaching some. Congressman Jared Huffman from San Rafael joined a small group from Marin County who gathered at the Elk Grove jail Saturday in support of Mejia.
“The real issue is do we have the ability to empathize with a man who is law abiding who is family man who is committed to this community?" said Huffman.
Mejia says if he wins the chance to speak to a judge, he’d try to convey that in 16 years as an illegal resident he’s paid taxes, taken care of his family, and been an asset to the community, but he’d pledge to go beyond that.
"If they give me the chance to be legal, to stay here, I try to do better things," Mejia said.