Earlier this month, Gerardo Martinez-Morales, a 52-year-old printer and father of four, was driving to a doctor's appointment in Galveston when he was pulled over by an island police officer because of a broken tail light. He handed the officer the only driver's license he had - one that had expired and which he couldn't renew because he was in the country illegally.
That was enough to get Martinez-Morales arrested and eventually taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents, where he now awaits deportation to Mexico.
Martinez-Morales is one of at least six similar cases that have come to the attention of a local immigrant rights advocacy organization since President Donald Trump ordered stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws aimed at deporting people in the country illegally.
At a news conference Friday with members of Martinez-Morales' family, Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL Houston, said people living in the U.S. illegally and with no criminal records are increasingly being detained and deported.
"This has set the community on edge," Espinosa said.
Martinez-Morales' case follows the high-profile detention late last month and subsequent deportation of Jose Escobar, a 31-year-old father of two American children with an American wife, to El Salvador, a country he hadn't seen since coming to the United States as a teenager 16 years ago.



















Escobar, who had a previous deportation order against him but who had been granted temporary permission to live and work in the U.S., was detained during a required routine status check-in with immigration officials.
ICE records show that Martinez-Morales was previously removed from the United States in March 2004. It's unclear when he returned. He was arrested in Galveston on March 9.
On Friday, Martinez-Morales' attorney, Raed Gonzalez, said officers were motivated to arrest his client after he unintentionally revealed he was here illegally.
"The moral of the story behind this - you don't have to disclose or talk about your legal status," he said. "They really didn't have an excuse to detain this person or to have called ICE. It's of growing concern that people know their rights."
Slim chances
Martinez-Morales' family and his attorney said that he had no criminal record.
The Galveston Police Department hasn't commented on the arrest beyond providing a basic police report about the traffic stop.
"The chances of getting him to stay are slim," Gonzalez said. "We're hoping that they at least contact us so that we can negotiate in the case."
Under the new policies being enforced by the Trump administration, immigration agents are required to deport anyone convicted of a criminal offense, including those driving without a license, a growing obstacle for more than half a million immigrants in the region who can't get a license because of their illegal immigration status.
"Trump said he would deport criminals, but instead he is ripping families apart and deporting the people that deserve to be here," Espinosa said.
Espinosa said his organization has taken on four cases similar to Escobar's, where people were detained when routinely checking in with ICE. He said the clients in those cases were detained after performing their annual routine check-ins with immigration, he said.
"They were trying to follow the rules and they were detained," he said. "The number of people seeking our help is growing."
Trying to stay afloat
Martinez-Morales' family said he has lived in the U.S. for more than 25 years.
His daughter, Emma, 12, tried holding back tears as she spoke about her father.
The fallout of losing a family member to deportation has added another layer of uncertainty to the family's ability to stay afloat financially.
Her mother, Monica, is a housekeeper and doesn't make enough to support the family alone. Meanwhile, the family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help with immediate expenses.
"He was always there for me and would do anything to make me happy," said Emma Martinez. "I would like for him to be here, and without him I don't know how we'll be able to progress."