Marco Flores Deserves to Stay in the U.S.: A Feminist Argument Against Deportation

As a teenager, Marco Flores believed murdering his rapist was the only way to protect himself and his nephew. After serving his prison sentence, he faces deportation—yet another injustice.

Marco Flores was 17 years old when he killed the man who had been molesting him since he was a boy. Prosecutors were swayed by the abuse Flores suffered and agreed that to some extent he had been driven to this crime. (Suzanne Kreiter / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

When he was 3 years old, Marco Flores’ mother migrated to the U.S. from El Salvador, in hopes of securing a better future for herself and her family. She left Marco with a teenage brother and had him sent to her in Boston when he was 6—as soon as she had saved enough money for his passage. When Marco turned 8, his mother accepted the offer of her neighbor, Jaime Galdamez, to babysit Marco for free. When Marco was 9, Galdamez began sexually abusing him. This abuse continued until Marco was 14 years old.

For years, Marco did not tell his mother what Galdamez had done to him, for Galdamez had convinced Marco that the information would only earn him his mother’s anger. According to a New York Times report, at the age of 17, Marco found a picture of his 6-year-old nephew in Galdamez’s apartment, where Galdamez hoarded photos of many young boys. Marco’s mother then told him that Galdamez would soon be moving into their home to babysit his 6-year-old nephew. 

Convinced that this was the only way to protect his nephew from the same abuse he had endured, teenage Marco murdered Jaime Galdamez and confessed to the crime. Marco accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Now in his early 30s, Marco has served his time and is set to be released—and immediately deported back to El Salvador. Two lawyers are fighting for him to remain. 

The moral case for Marco Flores’ deportation can be boiled down to the following: As an undocumented person who committed a violent crime, he is ineligible to remain in the country. Echoing this sentiment, David J. Bier, associate director of immigration studies at the Cato institute, told The New York Times that Flores “forfeited his right to decide where he wants to live for the rest of his life when he took matters into his own hands.” 

The idea here is that immigration justice for Marco Flores can be reduced to two concrete moments: when 6-year-old Marco crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without legal authorization, and the moment where he “took matters into his own hands” in murdering Galdamez. This is a limited vision of immigration ethics that we need urgently to challenge.

Feminist immigration ethics offers a better understanding of the moral challenge in question—underscoring why Marco Flores deserves to remain in the United States.

The sexual abuse Marco endured as an undocumented child with an overworked immigrant mother was … an aspect of the immigration injustice he experienced. 

First, feminists have called for greater attentiveness to the complex vulnerabilities of immigrant women and children. Sociologist Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo said we are in “a moment in history where racialized and gendered xenophobia have greased the chutes of deportation.”

Feminists also highlight how our political system regularly neglects so-called “private wrongs” such as rape, child abuse and domestic violence. They have long argued that the personal is, in fact, political. 

When we make the personal political—taking seriously the intimate vulnerabilities of immigrant women and children—we see that the sexual abuse Marco endured as an undocumented child with an overworked immigrant mother was, in fact, an aspect of the immigration injustice he experienced. 

Feminists would also have us consider Marco’s possible deportation from a lens of structural injustice—which, as defined by philosopher Iris Marion Young, occurs when “social processes put large groups of people under systematic threat of domination or deprivation of the means to develop and exercise their capacities” while empowering others to dominate them. 

Structural injustice is different from the kind of injustice that occurs when a single individual commits a single wrong action—like when imaginary Jones wrongfully steals five dollars from the pocket of imaginary Samantha.

Instead, a structural injustice framework has us consider numerous aspects of Marco’s immigrant experience leading up to the murder of Jaime Galdamez. This includes the poverty and gang violence in El Salvador that compelled Marco’s mother to relocate to the U.S. It includes the lack of affordable daycare in the United States—a likely factor in his mother’s decision to leave him in the care of an unvetted neighbor. Consider also the stigma around disclosing sexual abuse—and how abused men and boys feel particularly uncomfortable reporting their abuse—which surely influenced Marco’s decision to conceal this information from his mother. 

All these things formed a “structure” of domination that put Marco in a series of unjust situations that characterize his immigrant experience.

Finally, feminist immigration ethics reveals that granting people a right to remain is sometimes the right response to past wrongdoing. Philosopher Shelley Wilcox has argued that we should “shift … admissions priorities to favor prospective immigrants who either are at risk of sustaining human rights deficits for which the destination society is responsible or having already sustained such deficits.”

Consider the stigma around disclosing sexual abuse—and how abused men and boys feel particularly uncomfortable reporting their abuse—which surely influenced Marco’s decision to conceal this information from his mother. 

Though it was Marco Flores’ mother’s decision to bring him to the United States without legal authorization—and his own adolescent hands that killed Jaime Galdamez—the United States is somewhat responsible for “human rights deficits” endured by Flores. This responsibility includes, but it not limited to, the U.S. government’s complicity in spiking gang violence in El Salvador; the lack of affordable childcare and underfunded social services for families in this country; and, again, the enduring social stigma that victims of sexual abuse—especially men—experience in this country as they consider speaking out.

Feminist ethics tells us justice is never served by concealing morally salient facts. But this is precisely what happens when we only consider those two distinctive moments in time in our ethical assessments.

To deport Marco after he has completed his prison sentence—and as he prepares to thrive in this country after enduring immense structural injustice—would only add to his litany of wrongs. The United States should give Marco Flores a legal right to remain in this country as a remedy for how our system, and not just Jaime Galdamez, dominated and wronged him as a vulnerable immigrant child.

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Amy Reed-Sandoval is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the author of Socially Undocumented: Identity and Immigration Justice (Oxford University Press, 2020). She is currently completing a book entitled Intimate Borders: Feminism at the Margins of the State. Her writing has previously appeared in venues such as LA Times en Español, Ms. magazine, BBC News Online, The Guardian, Salon and Psyche.