PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — A recent Tate High School graduate who spent two weeks in jail facing possible deportation was reunited Wednesday with his Pensacola family.
Gustavo Pineda Mendoza, 18, was released from an Immigration Detention & Enforcement (ICE) facility in Miami. Congressman Matt Gaetz’s office contacted ICE Monday and helped get him home.
“I was really worried about him,” Neal Johnson said. “He’s been at four different jails in the last two weeks.”
Johnson flew in and picked him up Wednesday morning. Johnson is the director of football operations at Tate High School. That’s where they met but they really got to know each other on the long road trip back to Pensacola this week.
“I’m a retired Navy Master Chief so for 670 miles he heard about honor, courage and commitment…For 670 miles, that’s what we talked about,” Johnson said.
Gustavo graduated in 2020 and was a star soccer player at Tate High.
Janice Shirley was on a mission trip in Honduras five years ago when she adopted Gustavo and brought him back to the U.S. but he wasn’t eligible for automatic citizenship then the pandemic pushed back the process of getting his green card.
While working in Okaloosa County on January 18th, he was pulled over by Florida Highway Patrol. He was transferred to an ICE facility facing possible deportation back to Honduras.
“I want to thank Congressman Matt Gaetz for giving me a second chance because without him, it would be a different situation,” Gustavo said.
Neal’s son Matt Johnson, who’s good friends with Gustavo, set up a GoFundMe that has raised about $7,000 so far in two weeks.
“This will make my dreams come true and become a citizen and join the Navy,” Gustavo said.
Much of that money will pay attorney fees and help him as he works to get his green card then eventually citizenship.
Congressman Matt Gaetz’s office released the following statement:
“Congressman Gaetz is pleased that he and his congressional office were able to complete a favorable casework request for one of our constituents in Northwest Florida. Our office resolves matters involving federal agencies on behalf of Northwest Floridians every day, and we encourage constituents with similar issues to contact us so we can work to help resolve their cases.”