CLOQUET, Minn. — A man known for his involvement in a popular Cloquet restaurant was deported to Mexico this week but will petition for re-entry into the United States, his wife said Friday, Aug. 17.
Pedro Aranda, 42, is back in his home country after being arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents last week, Erika Aranda told the News Tribune. She said he has been in contact with his children in Cloquet and is doing well.
"He got sent back right away," she said. "Thankfully, he didn't have to sit in jail or anything. It's part of a process, so the sooner the better."
Erika Aranda said she is separated from her husband but they are still legally married. While he has been publicly associated with Pedro's Grill and Cantina in downtown Cloquet, she said Pedro Aranda has never been a legal owner of the business and hasn't been involved in its operation for three years.
An ICE spokesman said Aranda was arrested Aug. 9 at a Carlton County golf course after failing to comply with a voluntary departure order, in which he was allowed to leave the country on his own accord by May 25, 2010, or face deportation.
Erika Aranda, who was born in Los Angeles and met her husband while living in Mexico, said Pedro Aranda entered the country legally in 2000 and had been here on work permits in the past.
She said he signed the voluntary departure agreement in 2010, giving him 120 days to leave, but that he mistakenly thought the order would not take effect unless and until he received a formal letter notifying him.
"He was just kicked out," she said. "He was waiting on an appointment to get either a residential permit or another work permit or a letter of departure, but they just closed his case."
But ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said Aranda had been in the country illegally for eight years, in violation of the terms of the 2010 agreement.
"The voluntary departure order essentially says you can leave no harm, no foul, no penalties; you haven't been quote unquote 'deported,'" Neudauer said. "But after 120 days, it automatically becomes a deportation order, and he was subject to all the penalties and had been considered an immigration fugitive since 2010."
Erika Aranda said attorneys are working on a petition to the immigration court to allow Pedro Aranda to re-enter the country, but it remained unclear if, when and under what conditions he could be allowed to do so.
Pedro Aranda in 2005 helped establish the Cloquet restaurant, which was initially known as Mexico Lindo and owned by Felipe Mata. But Erika Aranda said it was her, not Pedro, who assumed ownership of the business in 2015 — naming it after their son, Pedro Jr. — and that he has stayed out of business operations while attempting to get his legal status sorted out.
While the couple has separated, she said Pedro Aranda was living in the Twin Cities but frequently visited Cloquet to visit his children and golf. Others in the community said he was a big presence in the small town, known for a generous nature.
Tom Proulx, a Carlton County commissioner who has golfed with Aranda in the past, wasn't with Aranda during the arrest but said he was picked up at the parking lot at Black Bear Casino in Carlton, Minn.
"He's been very good in the community — he's a good citizen, as far as I know," Proulx said. "He's very good with charitable organizations, sponsoring different organizations. Is there more to the story? I don't know."
Taysha Martineau also knows Aranda from the Black Bear Casino, where she works. Once, when she mentioned some of the "first-time mom troubles" she was having, Aranda dropped off a gift basket filled with new baby bottles and nipples.
"We weren't even very close," she said.
Aranda's deportation comes as the Trump administration enforces hardline immigration policies. And while ICE has been known to make arrests in the Twin Cities or in southern Minnesota farming communities, the controversial agency has not been particularly visible in the Twin Ports area.
Neudauer demurred when asked what prompted ICE to take action now, more than eight years after the order, when Aranda had been well known in the community for years. A search of court records shows only a handful of driving and parking tickets in his name.
"When all is said and done, he had a final order, he should've left and he didn't," Neudauer said. "That was the basis for his arrest. Someone just noticed he was in the area and checked on it, ran across his name, and took action."