Elkhart's Paez family immigration case decision to happen in June
Posted: 03/22/2012 at 1:20 pm
By: Tim Vandenack
Click here to view in a gallery.
The Paez family, (from left) Maria, Juan, Marta, Ana and Armando Paez, gather outside a federal building after their meeting Thursday with U.S. immigration officials in Chicago. The Paezes have long lived in Elkhart, but face deportation back to their native Colombia. (Truth Photos By Tim Vandenack)
The Paez family after their meeting Thursday with U.S. immigration officials in Chicago. From Left, Maria, Armando, Ana, Juan and Marta Paez.The Paezes have long lived in Elkhart, but face deportation back to their native Colombia. Around 20 friends, mainly from Elkhart, traveled to Chicago as a show of support for the Paezes. (Truth Photo By Tim Vandenack)
Maria Baldini-Potermin, the Paezes' Chicago-based lawyer. The Paezes have long lived in Elkhart, but face deportation back to their native Colombia and met with U.S. Immigration officials in Chicago on Thursday. Around 20 friends, mainly from Elkhart, traveled to Chicago as a show of support for the Paezes. (Truth Photo By Tim Vandenack)
Marta Paez, left, and her brother, Humberto Leon, hug after the Paezes' meeting Thursday with U.S. immigration officials in Chicago. The Paezes have long lived in Elkhart, but face deportation back to their native Colombia. Around 20 friends, mainly from Elkhart, traveled to Chicago as a show of support for the Paezes. (Truth Photo By Tim Vandenack)
Armando Paez and his family's case is hardly closed, though. And following a meeting Thursday morning here with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials they face a repeat visit to Chicago in three months, on June 21. Still, the Elkhart family, originally from Colombia, wasn't taken into custody — that was their biggest fear — and they were able to submit applications to halt deportation proceedings.
“We have three months,” Marta Paez, Armando's wife, said after the meeting with ICE authorities. “We still have confidence, faith that things are going to work out.”
“Thanks to God, thanks to the community of Elkhart,” added Armando Paez, a waiter and long-time fixture at two Elkhart restaurants. He was speaking in the airy lobby of the ICE field office in downtown Chicago, shortly after the meeting with the ICE reps ended.
Around 20 backers, most from Elkhart, traveled to Chicago as a show of solidarity with the Paezes, who have generated a strong outpouring of support from many, as well as criticism from others. The supporters, some wearing buttons reading “Support the Armando Paez Family,” heaved a collective sigh of relief on hearing the news that the Paez case is on hold, at least until June 21.
“I'm grateful, I'm happy, I'm relieved,” said Paul Cataldo, owner of Antonio's Italian Restaurant, where Armando Paez works as a waiter. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
‘COMPLETE EXERCISE OF DISCRETION'
Indeed, Maria Baldini-Potermin, the Paezes' Chicago attorney, said in the ICE lobby that it's hardly case closed.
The Paez family — Armando, Marta and their three kids, Ana, Maria and Juan — arrived legally in Elkhart in 1999 from Colombia. But none had visas granting them permanent residency, and efforts to secure legitimate papers have been turned back by federal authorities three times. In the meantime, U.S. immigration officials in 2008 issued deportation orders against them, though they've remained as they appeal their case.
“We're asking for a complete exercise of discretion,” said Baldini-Potermin.
Immigration judges and even a federal appellate court have already ruled against the Paezes, who sought political asylum based on their worries that they're potential targets of a simmering leftist rebel movement in Colombia. An ICE press release on Thursday said the five Paezes were “immigration fugitives” until an ICE Fugitive Operations Team located them at their Elkhart home on Dec. 15.
Now their future hinges on ICE officials' willingness to see the Paez case in the same light as Baldini-Potermin. She asks that the feds halt the pending removal orders against the Paezes under authority of a controversial set of new guidelines that have come under fire from foes of illegal immigrants. The guidelines, outlined in what are called the Morton memos, are meant to put the focus of federal efforts to corral illegal immigrants on those convicted of violent crimes and terrorists, not relatively low-key immigrants like the Paezes.
Barring a favorable decision from ICE, which will probably rule in the matter by June 21, Baldini-Potermin says the other option is a federal bill focused specifically on the Paezes, granting them permission to remain in the United States.
The Paez supporters almost weren't allowed to go into the ICE building Thursday. The pro-Paez buttons some were wearing apparently fueled concerns by ICE security officials of disruptions or protesting.
Ultimately the 20 or so on hand were able to enter, and as the Paezes and Baldini-Potermin met with ICE reps, they spoke glowingly of the family. Armando Paez works hard, never complains. The kids are studious and high achieving.
She adores the tight-knit family, said Angi Brock, who works alongside Armando Paez at Antonio's and has gotten to know the whole family. Daughters Ana and Maria ought to be able to finish college. Son Juan, now a student at North Side Middle School, should be able to finish high school and continue his education.
Tony McDaniel, Ana Paez's cross-country and track coach at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where she's a senior, cited the young woman's grit.
Even if she's in pain, she doesn't complain, “just takes care of business,” said McDaniel, who traveled to Chicago from Indianapolis. Ana Paez, 22, has practiced with stress fractures, and he calls her one of the best runners in school history.
“I definitely think they're a group of people we need here,” McDaniel said.
Lynn Chiu, himself an immigrant from Laos and president of Bounthanh's, an egg roll and Chinese food manufacturer in Nappanee, called the Paezes “quality” people. “I'm never going to fault anyone when they come to the country for a better life because that's what my parents did,” Chiu said.
On departing the meeting with ICE officials, the Paezes smiled and accepted hugs from their well-wishers.
“I was pretty scared going in, to be honest,” said Ana Paez. She had worried about being detained, though ICE reps later assured the family that was never in the cards, she said.
Marta Paez said one of the first orders of business would be to go to church “and give thanks to God.”
Maria Paez, 19 and a freshman at Indiana University South Bend, alluded to critics who have blasted the ability of the Paezes to remain in the country so long as their case unfolds. “They don't know the whole story, so they can way whatever they want to say,” she said.
Armando Paez, meanwhile, emphasized that the family's efforts continue. “We still need the support because this isn't over,” he said.