Guatemalan Family Fights to Stay Together

Previously we have linked to stories of immigrant families being split up by U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement. Last week, Brazilian Voice reported on the Quiej family, Guatemalans who face deportation. The family has lived in the United States since 1993, having fled Guatemala during the final years of the Guatemalan Civil War. They are scheduled to meet with ICE agents next week. Below is a translation of the article from Portuguese.

President Barack Obama’s pronouncement at the beginning of the summer that children brought illegally to the United States could… work legally [under temporary permits] gave hope to thousands of families, especially the Quiej family, residents of Princeton Township, N.J.

The family, which has lived illegally in the United States since 1993, has lived in Princeton for four years and has five children, two born in the United States. Last year, the government gave them one year to stay in the country, after Ebelyn, a 20-year-old who suffered from cerebral palsy, developed epilepsy.

Despite her positive reaction to physical therapy, Ebelyn’s convulsions got worse, said her mother, Graciela Quiej.

Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement informed the Quiej family that they would have one year to leave the country. (Photo via Brazilian Voice)

Ebelyn’s father, Javier Quiej, fled war-torn Guatemala in 1991, followed by his wife and three children in 1993. After refusing voluntary deportation at the end of the 1990s, the Quiej family was lucky enough to “keep under the radar” until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents knocked on their door at 6 a.m. one morning in 2008.

Javier and his son, Javier Jr., were taken by agents.

“They spent approximately two weeks detained in separate penitentiaries,” said Maria Juega, an activist for the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “They were freed under supervision and as a direct result of public pressure.”

After the incident, Javier had to report to ICE headquarters in Marlton, N.J. every month, added Juega. Last year, ICE informed the Quiej family that they should leave the country, however, Stephen Traylor, a lawyer with offices in Princeton, was able to extend the looming deadline. This year he will try again, so that the family can stay another year.

“Now, the laboratory is offering free medicine to Ebelyn,” said Traylor. “That could end if they return to Guatemala, where getting medicine would be difficult and very expensive.” At the same time, he knows that there is no way to know for sure how long ICE will let them stay in the country.

“In the past, they gave consideration [to special cases], but there are no guarantees,” said Traylor. “I’ve seen some agents be supportive, others not so much.”

With the one-year deadline approaching, the Quiej family will have to do an interview on July 18.

“It’s scary,” said Javier Jr. “You never know what can happen.”

After ICE agents conduct the interview, the Quiej family will have to wait six weeks or more for a final decision as to whether or not they can stay in the country.

“There are strong, human considerations to be made here,” concluded Juega. “It will be a very controversial decision if they resolve to separate the family.”

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