ELKHART — Once again, Armando Paez meets with U.S. immigration officials.
And once again, the Colombian native and Elkhart transplant faces the possibility of deportation.
Paez, his wife and the couple's three kids came to Elkhart in 1999 and they've been in Indiana ever since. But they overstayed their visas, running afoul of U.S. immigration law and becoming undocumented immigrants, and subsequently received orders of deportation. They've been fighting for years to rectify the situation so they can remain lawfully and have received temporary reprieves from deportation.
But the latest stay of deportation, issued a year ago, expires on Friday, March 14, and the Paezes travel to Chicago for a meeting that day with a representative from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The three Paez children, Ana, Maria and Juan, have permission to stay under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, initiative.
Armando Paez and wife Martha don't, though, and their future in the United States hinges on the outcome of the meeting.
He's concerned, said Armando Paez, "feeling a little stress."
Paez is a host at Antonio's Italian Ristorante and The Vine, eateries in Elkhart, and his family's case has generated a strong outpouring of support from many in Elkhart who back his bid for permission to stay. For his latest request for a stay of deportation, Paez said he sought out and received notarized letters of support from around 60 people.
The Paezes faced similar proceedings in 2012 and 2013 and their situation underscores the tricky questions in the broader debate over immigration reform. Should the Paezes be deported because they overstayed the visas allowing them to come here, violating U.S. immigration law? Or do their contributions as residents of the community and longevity here trump that?
The entire family of five will make the trip to Chicago, according to the Paezes lawyer, Maria Baldini-Potermin of Chicago. And the ICE rep should make a determination the day of their visit on the elder Paezes applications for another stay of deportation, she said.
"I'm not making any predictions," said Baldini-Potermin.
The ICE official could grant the stay or, conversely, deny it, meaning Armando and Martha Paez would have to return to Colombia. That their youngest child, Juan, is still in school, a 10th grader at Elkhart Memorial High School, bodes in their favor.
The DACA program, announced by President Obama in 2012, is geared to younger undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents. Ana, Maria and Juan successfully applied for permission to remain in the country under its provisions, thus they don't face the threat of deportation on Friday.
Ana Paez graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, or IUPUI, in 2012 and now works as an instructional assistant at an elementary school in Indianapolis. Maria Paez is a sophomore at IUPUI, studying computer engineering.