Connecticut lawmakers are rallying behind a New Fairfield resident whom federal immigration officials have told to leave the country.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, of the 5th House District, met with Joel Colindres and his wife Samantha on Monday to discuss a deportation order from federal immigration officials – telling him he must leave the country by August 17th.
Senator Chris Murphy and his two fellow Democrats wrote to immigration officials asking for a six-month stay of deportation so Colindres can prove his marriage is valid. Esty says the immigration order is unacceptable.
“We should be focused on people who are criminals,” Esty says, “who are dangerous to public safety – people who have committed crimes in their home country and/or have committed crime in the United States.”
Advocates say grounds for the stay are the New Fairfield resident pays taxes, has no criminal record and has an American wife and two children. His attorney, Erin O’Neil-Baker, says Colindres also fears returning to his native Guatemala – because his family is being targeted.
“In the last year, three of his family members have been murdered,” O’Neil-Bakers says. “He cannot bring his wife and children there.”
O’Neil-Baker says Colindres’ case is not unusual.
“That has increased very much,” O’Neil-Bakers says.
Under the Obama administration, there was a policy of not deporting individuals who had been in the country before 2014. Now, President Donald Trump has been working to fulfill his campaign promise to crack down on immigration, and removed that guideline through executive order.
“Well, it certainly doesn’t make it easier,” Esty says.
Esty says she and her Democratic colleagues agree Colindres’ case is the perfect example of why comprehensive immigration reform is needed.
“I have seen a marked increase in folks being concerned of deportation, about their families being torn apart,” Esty says.
O’Neil-Baker says she has also seen a dramatic uptick in her workload. She says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has rounded up many residents she represents who came to the country illegally, and as for Colindres…
“His family is preparing for the worst,” O’Neil-Baker says.
When Colindres first entered the U.S. in 2004, he surrendered himself to Border Patrol – seeking asylum. Immigration officials caught up with him when Colindres tried to petition to register his marriage. He married his wife in 2010.
Immigration officials will continue to supervise Colindres and his family until he leaves the country. His supporters say that is stressing the family, especially his wife, who has a chronic illness.
“He had to buy his own plane ticket to leave the U.S., so it’s not like he is going on a government-funded plane. He has been given the notice of the date he must leave, he bought his own ticket, he currently has a GPS unit on his ankle, so immigration can track him at all times, and he still checks in with Immigration weekly,” O’Neil-Baker says.
There is not much left to do but wait.
“There is a really simple option here and it is that Immigration grant Mr. Colindres six months so we can see what his pending applications…what will happen with those pending applications,” O’Neil-Baker says.
The best case scenario: Colindres has six months to get word on his marriage petition. He may have to leave the country for a week or two and go to the U.S. Consulate in Guatemala until the paperwork clears.
“They can in essence pardon his prior immigration history,” O’Neil-Baker says.
Colindres has also filed a new claim for asylum, and may be granted a hearing to explain his case.
“We are just waiting for an answer,” O’Neil-Baker says.