ELKHART — A year ago, the Paez family, facing deportation, nervously awaited a meeting with federal immigration authorities, their future here, they feared, hanging in the balance.
Ultimately, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials postponed a final decision in their case, giving the Elkhart family a respite, of sorts, from potential removal to their native Colombia. The story isn’t over, though.
The Paezes — Armando, his wife Martha and the couple’s three kids — return to Chicago Thursday, March 14, for another meeting with ICE officials. And once again, Armando Paez, a longtime fixture at Antonio’s Italian Restaurant here, where he works as host, is filled with uncertainty.
“The same. It’s just like the time before. We don’t know,” said Paez.
The family has been here in Elkhart since 1999 — overstaying the visas they used to get in, federal officials charge. They’ve been vying since 2002 for a more permanent decision from immigration officials letting them remain and, in the meantime, have temporary permission to stay and work.
Meanwhile, the Paezes’ Chicago lawyer, Maria Baldini-Potermin, has asked for more documents and paperwork ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Armando Paez said, and the Paezes have complied. That’s about all they know.
“Nothing’s been decided. We don’t know,” he said.
‘THE UNCERTAINTY, THE UNKNOWN’
The three Paez children, Ana, Maria and Juan, face less uncertainty, perhaps. They’ve all applied for permission to remain in the country per President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative — geared to undocumented immigrants brought here as children — and await decisions on their requests.
DACA, though, doesn’t apply to the elder Paezes.
The kids may have a means to remain “but I don’t know what they’re going to do with the parents,” said Paul Cataldo, Paez’s boss and the operator of Antonio’s.
As such, the elder Paezes face the specter of potentially being separated from their children. “That’s got to eat at him as a parent,” said Cataldo.
Cataldo has assisted Paez in his employee’s search for support to remain. Nonetheless, he indicates that things remain up in the air, echoing Paez.
“I hope that (Thursday’s meeting) is just a formality, but I don’t know,” said Cataldo. “I know they’re nervous just because of the uncertainty, the unknown.”
‘ONLY GOD KNOWS’
The Paezes received an outpouring of support last year, as the prior Chicago meeting and the possibility of deportation loomed. Some 500 letters came in from supporters — friends, work associates, the children’s teachers and others.
That figured in last year’s decision by immigration officials to put a hold on deportation, at least for the time being, their lawyer, Baldini-Potermin said at the time.
It wasn’t the only thing.
The lawyer also noted the potential threat the Paezes would face from a left-wing insurgency in Colombia, which Armando Paez had originally cited in a bid, later rejected, for political asylum. The youth of the Paez children figured in the mix along with U.S. immigration guidelines that put the feds’ focus on criminal offenders and undocumented immigrants who pose a threat to national security, not low-key immigrants like the Paezes.
Armando Paez works at Antonio’s and another downtown Elkhart eatery, The Vine, while his wife works in a seatbelt factory. Ana is to formally graduate in May from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Maria is a student at IUPUI while Juan is a ninth-grader at Elkhart Memorial High School.
The issues at play at Thursday’s meeting aren’t clear. Baldini-Potermin didn’t return a call or email seeking comment while Armando Paez deferred on such particulars to his attorney.
Suffice it to say that Armando Paez is taking things one day at a time.
“Only God knows where we’ll end up,” he said.