Elder Guerra-Perez has lived in East Boston for nearly 25 years — marrying, raising a family, and holding a job as a maintenance worker at a fancy office building on Rowes Wharf.
Now he is living a nightmare that could happen to any of thousands of Boston residents: potential removal from the country at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Guerra-Perez, who is 40 and hails from Guatemala, was arrested by ICE in a park near Logan Airport on Nov. 17. Though he has no criminal record, he has been subject to deportation since an immigration court ruled against his application for asylum in 2013.
He was lucky, in a sense: A video of his arrest quickly drew a lot of attention on social media. Perhaps because of that, he was released, with a monitoring device, rather than being held in custody, and allowed to return to his home.
Still, he faces imminent removal to a country he left as a teenager. Which would mean leaving behind a wife, as well as a three-year-old son — who, ironically, is a US citizen.
“Returning him to a country he hasn’t been to in 25 years, plus a country that has probably gotten worse since he left, would put him in a very bad situation,” said Talia Barrales, Guerra-Perez’s immigration attorney. She said he has filed a motion for a stay of removal.
“His wife is Salvadoran and also undocumented, so [their son] really has no stability at home if Elder is removed from the United States,” Barrales told me. “Right now we’re really hinging on the discretion of ICE to allow him to have a stay.”
Guerra-Perez came to the United States fleeing a country in the midst of a civil war, as well as soaring crime. Some close relatives had already moved to East Boston. An older brother has become a US citizen, while his parents are permanent legal residents. All of them live in Boston.
“He said in the neighborhood he was in, his family started to get threats,” Barrales said. “He could have been recruited to the guerillas, the army, or even the rising gangs in Guatemala. He had seen people in his neighborhood who had been killed for their refusal to participate with these organizations. So he fled to the US.”
If there is a compelling reason to deport this man who has lived in this country without incident for his entire adult life, I don’t know what it would be.
His case has drawn the attention and support of politicians, neighbors, and even his union, SEIU 32BJ, which have submitted letters to immigration officials on Guerra-Perez’s behalf.
Barrales argues that much has changed since her client was denied asylum. Having a child who is a citizen, plus two parents with permanent legal status, would strengthen his eligibility to stay in the United States.
“None of that would have come into play before,” she said.
But as things stand right now, Guerra-Perez has been ordered to report to immigration on Dec. 17 with his passport and a plane ticket to a country he barely knows at this point. Which is madness.
“If we’re able to get a stay, there would just be a continuance of that date,” Barrales said. “But until we have a stay he has to start preparing for his departure back to Guatemala. And there’s no guarantee of his stay, because he already had a full hearing.”
Perhaps the worst aspect of this case is that it is like many, many others. It’s just one example of a broken immigration system. Worst of all, this case is extremely common. Barrales noted that she had three other clients arrested the same week as Guerra-Perez; one of them was deported to El Salvador Saturday.
She hopes the impending change in the White House will make a difference for people like Guerra-Perez.
“If we’ve learned anything from this past administration, it’s that the executive branch can do so much,” Barrales said. “I think we’ve seen how much power there really is and how much they can do. He should be afforded the opportunity to see his case through.”