Isidro Macario arrived at Logan International Airport before dawn Tuesday with a plane ticket to Guatemala and hopes for one last chance.
Bundled in a parka, the 48-year-old landscaper stepped into the glaring lights of the Delta terminal. His wife carried his Bible. Four of his sons stood somberly off to the side. Three are American citizens and Macario himself had lived in the United States for a quarter-century.
Macario carried records he hoped would spare him from deportation. Immigration officials had ordered him to leave because of a 1995 misdemeanor drunken driving conviction —part of efforts by the Obama administration to deport immigrants who have violated immigration laws.
“They’re separating me from my family, from my children,” he said in Spanish as he waited for an official to escort him to the plane. “What am I going to do?”
After immigration roundups this month sparked international outcry, federal officials and the Chelsea police chief said that no one had been arrested in New England. But the separation of the Macario family reveals that deportations are continuing, even for longtime immigrants who advocates thought were safe after President Obama’s 2014 declaration that the United States should focus on “felons, not families.”
In fiscal year 2015, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 235,413 people, down from 315,943 from the year before, and the agency reported that a majority of those removed had been convicted of a crime. The case of Macario shows the emotional backstory of some of those ordered to leave the country, and the legal reasoning behind the controversial decisions.
“We’re talking about a parent, a humble worker who has a whole church in front of him,” said Patricia Sobalvarro, executive director of Agencia ALPHA, a Boston nonprofit. She said that Macario is not a danger to the public.
But immigration officials say Macario’s case clearly meets the government’s criteria for deportation.
“Mr. Macario is a priority as defined by the executive action issued on Nov. 20, 2014, in that he is an alien convicted of a significant misdemeanor,” said ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer.
Critics of illegal immigration say those immigrants should be deported, especially those convicted of drunk driving, a potentially deadly crime. And despite the furor over raids in January that rounded up 121 immigrants in several southern states, critics complain about the drop in deportations.
“The reality is that the American public expects the laws to be enforced,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter controls on immigration. “And he’s exhausted his options. He doesn’t qualify to stay. It’s just that simple.”
Macario’s appointed date to leave the United States fell on Tuesday morning — the day of the State of the Union address, when Obama repeated his call for legal residency for millions of unauthorized immigrants. Obama again called the immigration system “broken.”
Macario also believes the system is broken.
He was born in a village in rural Guatemala and came of age during a repressive regime supported for years by the United States. Thousands were kidnapped and killed, including, he said, his father. When they found his body, Macario became the head of the household. He was 11 years old.
When he was 23, he and his relatives joined the flood of migrants and refugees heading to the United States. They settled in Lynn, where he soon got into trouble.
In 1995, Lynn police arrested him for drunk driving after he rear-ended a cruiser, causing minor damage, court records show. The case is so old the police report is written by hand. The judge sentenced him to two years’ probation. He collected other convictions for minor offenses, including attaching the wrong license plates.
After that, Macario said, he tried to get his life together. He joined a church. He stopped drinking and he volunteered to help others get sober. If people couldn’t get a ride to church, he would pick them up.
He devoted himself to his wife, Maria, and their children, who had a brighter future in Lynn than Macario had in Guatemala. As a child, Macario had worked in the coffee fields and shared a one-room shack with a leaky roof and no electricity or running water.
Erwin, his 19-year-old son, remembers watching a video in sociology class in Lynn of child laborers in other countries and thinking: This could be my parents.
At some point Macario applied to stay in the United States, but he lost his immigration case. In 2009, a Boston immigration judge ordered him to leave the country. It was the same year that Maria’s brother was viciously attacked in Lynn because he was Guatemalan.
Macario appealed the deportation order for years, spending thousands of dollars on legal fees, but lost again. Last year the immigration agency’s Boston field office denied Macario’s request for a stay of deportation. Immigration officials affixed a GPS tracking device to his ankle.
“Mr. Macario was afforded due process, the appeal was denied, and his motions were dismissed by the Board of Immigration Appeals,” Neudauer, the ICE spokesman, said.
Macario said immigration officials should have taken into consideration that he had changed his life. In December, the congregation at Iglesia de Dios in Lynn signed a letter asking immigration officials to let him stay.
“Brother Isidro is not a bad person,” the letter said. “He is actually one of those that work hard to help others and to see them changing their lives for good.”
Macario said he knows other immigrants with criminal records who have been given a break, including Obama’s Kenyan uncle, who was arrested in 2011 for drunk driving. A police officer said Obama nearly collided with his cruiser. The president’s uncle had been here illegally for decades, but later won his case in immigration court.
“I recognize my errors,” Macario said. “But that was 21 years ago.”
On Tuesday, Macario hoped for another reprieve.
He was supposed to leave the country in December, but a snowstorm canceled his flight.
On Tuesday, the Macarios arrived back at Logan at 4 in the morning. Close behind was Patricia Sobalvarro of Agencia ALPHA with proof that US Representative Seth Moulton’s office was looking into his case.
She hoped the immigration officer would let Macario stay while the Massachusetts Democrat investigated.
A spokeswoman for Moulton said the office could not comment on the case because of privacy concerns, but that the office “regularly serves as an intermediary between Sixth District residents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to ensure that all facts are considered before a final ruling is made.”
Around 5 a.m., Macario hugged his children, kissed his wife, and went through security.
Erwin, his son, kept his eyes fixed on the gate to see if his father returned. He is an American citizen, but he says he is in constant fear of losing his parents.
A few minutes later, his mother broke into tears. His father was calling from the airplane to say goodbye.
Afterward, Maria headed to work scrubbing toilets at a Peabody company. Her sons went home to Lynn.
The next day, in a public acknowledgment of the dangers in Central America, Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced that the United States would expand its refugee program for Central Americans, including people from Guatemala, though it’s unclear what it might mean for Macario.Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mariasacchetti