Friday marks one year since a Naples, Maine man was arrested on his way to work, separated from his family, and deported to Guatemala.
“It’s horrible,” said Otto Morales-Caballeros on the phone. “It’s not easy being far away from your wife and friends.”
His wife, Sandra Merlim, has been able to travel from Naples to Guatemala twice, as she continues to fight a legal battle to get him back.
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“That’s my husband,” she said, “and I’m going to move heaven and earth until I get him home.”
Morales-Caballeros moved to the U.S. when he was 16 years old, at the end of the Guatemalan Civil War. He says at the time, he did not understand how to navigate the complex U.S. immigration system, and was advised to simply fly under the radar.
For decades, he lived a quiet life in Maine. He held a job, got married, and became a part of his community. But he was eventually caught using fraudulent documents for employment. Morales-Caballeros says he was cooperative with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and tried for years to get legal immigration status.
Last year, ICE officers caught him by surprise, and arrested him on the way to work. He went to jail, then boarded a plane wearing handcuffs. He’s been in Guatemala ever since.
“He’s so depressed,” said Merlim. “I’ve never seen him like this. He used to have a perpetual smile. He’s lost it.”
The couple has been working with an immigration attorney, and recently got an Alien Relative waiver approved. But because of a backlog in the immigration courts, Morales-Caballeros’ case is moving slowly.
While the couple is trying to stay strong, they both admit they have difficult days. Merlim says she can’t understand why the Trump administration would want to deport hard-working, nonviolent immigrants.
“I would ask [President Trump] how safe he’s making America by taking people’s husbands away,” she said.