Jackson man can’t return to country despite case dismissal

By Emily Mieure

Jackson Hole News&Guide

Via Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — A Jackson man is being prohibited from re-entering the United States even though prosecutors dismissed the criminal charge against him five months ago.

Miguel Cortes Hernandez, 21, was never convicted but was ordered by a federal judge to “voluntarily self-deport” to Mexico, leaving his Teton County case in limbo.

“I feel like I’m in the ‘Twilight Zone,’” Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Becket Hinckley said in Teton County District Court in April before dismissing the case.

Judge Timothy Day said it was impossible to try the case without having the defendant present.

Hernandez’s attorney Elisabeth Trefonas said it was an example of the United States Government trying to eat its cake and have it, too.

“The government can’t punish my client for not being here when the government told him to leave,” she said.

Hinckley dismissed the case, giving Hernandez and his family and friends hope that he could come home.

On Aug. 3 Hernandez went to the American Embassy in Mexico armed with everything he needed, including letters of recommendation, to return to the U.S. on a student visa.

“He was all registered at CWC to start this week,” said Sandy Hessler, a close family friend. “They said it had to be expunged. So if there’s any mark on your record the answer is ‘no’ even if it went away. The idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is not part of the Trump administration.”

Hernandez was arrested Oct. 17, 2016, after an hour of police questioning for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, documents state. It was reported to a school counselor, who was required to report it to law enforcement. Hernandez, who was 19 at the time, said the sex was consensual, according to documents, but Wyoming law states she wasn’t old enough to consent.

He was charged with second-degree abuse of a minor.

His mother brought Hernandez to Jackson when he was 8 years old. He grew up here and co-founded the Jackson nonprofit Community Soccer Camp with Hessler’s son, Jimmy Hessler.

The camps aimed to connect Jackson Hole youth of all backgrounds to the game of soccer.

Having been forced to take his passion elsewhere, he started a soccer camp in Leon, Mexico, and is expanding it.

“The good news is Miguel is in Brazil doing more soccer camps,” Sandy Hessler said.

Hernandez plans to broaden his camp in Leon to include English lessons, his friend Jack Hessler said.

“I am working on a short film about his story and the camp that will be available before the end of the year,” he said.

Hernandez has moved on as best he can and said he’s dealing with the cards he’s been dealt.

“I am grateful for everyone who has helped me,” he told the News&Guide in an email.

But his legal dilemma will likely continue unless the dismissed charge is expunged from his record.

Hinckley couldn’t speak to what will happen.

Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Erin Weisman, who’s running uncontested for Teton County Prosecuting Attorney, said she can’t talk specifics about cases outside the courtroom but said all alleged violations should be fairly evaluated.

“Wyoming law does not differentiate or take into account one’s residency or legal status in a criminal case,” she said. “The prosecutor’s role in our legal system is to be an agent of, and for, justice. Justice under the law may not be justice by another’s definition.”

Hernandez said he isn’t dwelling on it and will continue to host youth soccer camps.

“I will maintain my commitment to the amazing jugadores [players] in Leon and continue coaching the game that has given me everything I need in this world,” he posted on Facebook. “You never know where the wind will blow, but all I know is what makes us is how we deal with the cards we are given. Gracias to all who have helped me along the way, and I look forward to only evolving and learning from here.”