BY JON CRONIN
Seventeen years ago, the Villacis family fled from Colombia to the United States seeking political asylum, and now the family’s patriarch, Juan Villacis, has been deported. No reason has been given.
In 2002, the family’s matriarch, Liany Guerrero, was aiding her politically active family in elections in their hometown city of Pasto Nariño.
Guerrero’s father had run for city council in that town and had once been kidnapped by the Colombian rebel force known as Farc. The family had also been receiving threats since Guerrero’s brother served as mayor of the town in the 1980s. At the time, her twin daughters, Liany and Maria, were 5 years old. The family began receiving threats and photos of the twins playing in local parks.
Out of fear, the family fled to the United States and settled with Juan Villacis’ mother, a native of Ecuador and a U.S. citizen, in Woodhaven. Juan, an Ecuadorian citizen, applied for political asylum in the United States, but was promptly denied. The family has remained in the country via a yearly “stay of removal” that was granted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In October, when the family had to make their yearly trek to ICE’s office in Manhattan, they were told to come back on Nov. 15, which was one day after their stay expired.
Liany, the daughter, said that their father was called in alone, accompanied only by their lawyer, Jillian Hopman. Hopman later returned, but without their father. She informed them that Juan was arrested by ICE and placed in a jail, where he was awaiting deportation for Ecuador on Dec. 8.
Hopman wrote in a case summary statement, “They would not allow him to hug his family goodbye, because they…‘cannot allow emotional scenes.’”
“They have never been arrested, [have] paid their income taxes every year since 2002, have an approved immigrant visa, and fully support their elderly U.S. citizen mother, elderly U.S. citizen aunt, U.S. citizen daughter-in-law, and twin 22-year-old daughters in DACA status, while working full time and undergoing their own medical treatment,” Hopman wrote of the family.
Liany said that her family has not been given a reason for the deportation.
“ICE has our passports. I couldn’t even open a checking account in the bank that I work for,” said Liany.
Liany and her sister are DACA recipients and have more time, but not much. Guerrero, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, had to visit ICE on Nov. 30 to prove that she bought a one-way ticket to Colombia before Jan. 15. She was only granted this courtesy due to her medical condition.
Liany has recently seen some big changes in her life. She graduated with a degree in finance last spring from Baruch College and obtained her first job. She came out to her parents last year and subsequently married her girlfriend, who now lives with the family.
Her wife filed an I-130 form, which would help her to petition for Liany’s citizenship.
Liany’s sister, Maria, will also graduate from Baruch college this month with a degree in communications. Liany described her father as someone who lit up the home with food, laughter and music.
Liany noted that when she steps in the front door, she sees her father’s drums and saxophone sitting silent and doesn’t hear his voice welcoming her home.
She noted that the groups that harassed her family in Colombia continue to do so, only now via social media.
The family cares exclusively for Villacis’ mother, who is in need of 24-hour care and lives with them in their Woodhaven home.
Guerrero also has an aunt with Alzheimer’s disease for whom the family cares. It is also unlikely that the two daughters will be able to afford the home once their parents are gone.
“We really haven’t started thinking about these things,” Liany said, adding that she continues to work with Hopman on the case and remains hopeful.