HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An immigrant facing deportation to Guatemala has the support of Connecticut's two U.S. senators, who are trying to prevent him from being sent back to a country he left 25 years ago amid threats to his family.
Luis Barrios, a married father of four U.S.-born children, is scheduled to board a flight from New York to Guatemala on Thursday morning. Immigration officials had allowed him to stay in the U.S. since his illegal status was flagged in a 2011 traffic stop over a broken tail light, but they changed course after President Donald Trump took office and made immigration enforcement a priority.
His lawyer and members of Connecticut's congressional delegation are urging federal immigration officials to reverse the deportation order, and Barrios is seeking asylum. About 100 of his supporters rallied Tuesday outside the federal courthouse in Hartford, with 19 of them being charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct for blocking the courthouse entrance.
"Based on Mr. Barrios's strong ties to the community, including four U.S. citizen children, his lack of an arrest record, and the credible threat of violence against him if he is forced to return to Guatemala, we believe prosecutorial discretion is warranted," Democratic U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy wrote in a letter to Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials Monday.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, also a Connecticut Democrat, wrote a similar letter to immigration and Justice Department officials last week, saying returning Barrios to Guatemala would be "immoral and unconscionable."
ICE officials said in a statement that they are complying with a judge's 1998 deportation order.
"In an exercise of discretion, ICE has allowed Mr. Barrios to remain free from custody while finalizing his departure plans," the statement said. "The agency will continue to closely monitor his case to ensure his timely departure in compliance with the 1998 final order of removal."
Barrios, 51, of Derby, works for a septic system cleaning and maintenance company. He and his wife have four children, ages 11 to 19.
"We're not dangerous. We're not criminals," Barrios said Tuesday at his lawyer's office, at times speaking through an interpreter. "We're trying to show this is an injustice. I've tried to fix my situation, but they have denied me. If I failed at something, then I ask for forgiveness."
Appeals of the deportation order remained pending Tuesday.
Barrios left Guatemala in 1992 amid threats to his family and illegally entered the U.S. His father was killed shortly afterward, and his brother was slain in 2004. His wife's relatives also have been killed and kidnapped in Guatemala.
He said he applied for asylum in 1993 and it wasn't until 1998 that he got a court date, but he didn't receive notice of the hearing because he had moved. When he didn't show for the hearing, a judge issued the deportation order.
His appeal was denied, but the case remained pending until 2011, when state police pulled him over for the tail light. State police notified ICE, which detained Barrios for five weeks before deciding not to enforce the deportation order.
Immigration officials stayed the deportation order each year. But ICE denied his stay request in March, put a GPS tracking device on him and ordered him to leave the country May 4.
"There were priorities set up in the last administration, priorities for removal and deportation," said his lawyer, Erin O'Neil-Baker. "If you were here before 2014 and had no criminal record, you weren't a priority. Now that line has been erased and everybody is grouped together."