ELKHART — It’s been a long road for Armando Paez and his family, wrangling with U.S. immigration officials for years for permission to remain in the country.
For his boss, Paul Cataldo, operator of Antonio’s Italian Restaurant in Elkhart and a supporter of the Paezes, it’s exasperating. Paez and his family have tried for years to secure some sort of definitive response from immigration authorities in their quest, so far to no avail.
Most recently, they met with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at a March 14 meeting in Chicago.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, anxiety and waiting and no one can give him any answers,” Cataldo said Monday, March 18.
Cataldo has worked hard to drum up support for Paez, a host at Antonio’s and long-time employee. In the wake of last week’s meeting, he posted a message on his restaurant’s Facebook page expressing frustration over the process, which dates to 2002.
“It becomes clear through this process that the system is flawed and persons who find themselves trying to do the honorable thing are met with attorney bills and uncertainty,” Cataldo wrote.
Paez, his wife and their three children, originally from Colombia, entered the country legally in 1999, with visas. However, they overstayed the visas and authorities subsequently ordered them deported.
They’ve sought permission to remain, but while officials have granted them temporary permission to stay as the appeals process unfolds, the Paezes have yet to receive any sort of final answer.
Armando Paez “works two jobs, pays for his mortgage and car, has two children in college and from the outside, looks like anyone else here who is trying to make a better life for himself and his family,” Cataldo wrote in his Facebook post. “If these actions do not show his loyalty to this country, if this does not prove how much Armando wants to do the right thing and become a part of this country, what else will? What else could he possibly do?”
Cataldo took to Facebook, in part to keep Antonio’s customers who have been supportive of Paez up to date on the process. It also served as a means for Cataldo to speak out.
“This letter is written to you with a heavy heart and frustrated mind,” wrote Cataldo, himself an immigrant from Italy who came to the United States when he was 4.
According to the Paezes’ Chicago lawyer, Maria Baldini-Potermin, ICE officials last week told the Paezes they’d have some sort of response for the family within 30 days, by April 13. The Paezes seek an exercise of what’s called prosecutorial discretion, halting the removal orders they face and letting them stay.
The three children, Ana, Maria and Jose, perhaps face brighter prospects. Having come here as children, they’ve also applied to remain through an initiave announced by President Obama last year that’s geared to younger undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents.
Whatever the case, questions — many of them — remain, and it’s left Cataldo’s employee feeling at least a little bit helpless.
“The best-case scenario, he will have one more year in this country until he has to plead his case a year from now,” Cataldo wrote. “The worst-case scenario, we will have 29 more days with our friend Armando living in Elkhart County and in the United States of America.”