Minutes before boarding a flight back to his native Guatemala, a New Fairfield father learned a federal appeals court had granted him a last-minute stay of deportation.
Joel Colindrés was at the airport with his wife and two young children when he got the news, his attorney, Erin O’Neil-Baker, said Thursday. An application for an emergency stay was denied by an immigration appeals board a day earlier.
O’Neil-Baker said the stay gives him time to pursue multiple avenues to legal immigration status. She called Colindrés’ wife, Samantha, around 2:30 p.m. to inform her that it had been granted.
“There was a lot of exuberance and crying,” O’Neil-Baker said at an impromptu press conference with Sen. Richard Blumenthal outside the Abraham A. Ribicoff Federal Building in Hartford. “And just a feeling of ‘Let’s get out of here and get home.’”
The Colindrés family missed the press conference because they were still on their way back from the airport.
After fleeing Guatemala and entering the U.S. illegally in 2004, Colindrés turned himself in to authorities in Texas, where he crossed the border, and was allowed to remain in the country provisionally. But he missed a court date and an order of removal was issued.
Since he learned of the missed court appearance, Colindrés has worked to pursue legal status and had received several stays in recent years, but his most recent stay of deportation expired in June and was not renewed.
Democrats and immigrant rights activists have said Colindrés is the latest example of an increase in the deportation of undocumented immigrants with no criminal records under President Donald Trump.
Colindrés’ case drew sympathy from Connecticut’s congressional delegation, who intervened on his behalf. He has no criminal record, is married to a U.S. citizen, has two citizen children and has held down the same job for a dozen years, they said.
“While this reprieve is a step toward justice for the Colindrés family, their experience is nevertheless a perfect illustration of how broken our immigration system is,” Rep. Elizabeth Esty said in a written statement. “Tearing apart the Colindrés family won’t make any other American safer or more prosperous.”
At the news conference, Blumenthal said that “reason and justice” had prevailed and Colindrés would “get his day in court.” O’Neil-Baker has filed an asylum petition for Colindrés based on the murder of three of his family members in Guatemala. He fears for his life if he returns there, she said.
CNN profiled the case as an example of stepped-up immigration enforcement under Trump. Their cameras were rolling as the 33-year-old Colindrés played with his 6-year-old son, Preston, and 2-year-old daughter, Lila, in the yard of their New Fairfield home.
Murphy, in a written statement, said “the Trump administration has been targeting families like the Colindres, and it’s an abomination.”
Blumenthal spoke by phone with Colindrés Thursday, a conversation he described as “inspiring.” He was struck by the man’s patriotism and love for America, he said.
“He is so positive about this country, how many good people there are here,” Blumenthal said.
The Colindrés’ family had been through a tense 24 hours of anguish, fear and grief before learning that Joel could remain, O’Neil Baker said. But it’s not uncommon for immigrants to learn of a reprieve just before they are planning to depart, she said.
Samantha Colindrés’ seemed resigned to the fact that her husband would be leaving, posting on the “Save Joel Colindrés” Facebook page Wednesday night that, “We lost the fight.”
“For once I'm at a loss for words. Devastated, broken, angry … don't even begin to touch the tip of what we are feeling,” she wrote.
Other undocumented immigrants from Connecticut facing deportation orders have taken sanctuary in churches, but Colindrés’ family said he did not do so because “it could drastically impair his path to citizenship down the road.”
“Disobeying this order could make him a criminal fugitive and hurt all the efforts we have put forth,” she said.
But on Thursday she posted a photograph of the family smiling at the airport.
“Went to the airport today, sat for over an hour,” she wrote. “It was quickly approaching Joel's flight time and no officers showed up. We received a call from our amazing lawyer … that Joel could leave and go home. We don't know much more yet as far as how much time he has but all we know is we get tonight together!”
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