NEW FAIRFIELD, CT — Samantha Colindrés knows July 20, 2017, will go down in her family’s history as one of the worst days ever. That’s when she learned her husband, Joel, was given less than a month to end life as he knows it, abandon her and their two kids, leave his job and his home, and move back to Guatemala.
Joel Colindrés is not a criminal. He came to this country more than a decade ago. He is employed. He owns a house. He pays taxes. He does not drink alcohol and has never done drugs. He is, to his wife and two young children, the perfect husband, the world’s greatest dad.
That horrible day in July, though, he became one of scores of undocumented workers who had been granted permission to stay in the United States only to suddenly be ordered out as part of President Donald Trump’s sweeping roundup of immigrants. That July 20, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told him to be out of the country by Aug. 17.
He had 28 days.
“That was when I collapsed,” Samantha Colindrés said in an interview with Patch. “I started screaming, I started crying, I couldn’t breathe and I was hyperventilating. … I kept screaming that he had two children, two small children.”
That day was only the third time she had seen her husband cry. The other two were when his two children were born. Son Preston is 6 now. Daughter Lila is 2.
Although Joel Colindrés spent years trying to follow the government’s rules to become a citizen, never so much as parking illegally, he now must leave his country of more than a decade because ICE misspelled his name in a court filing, according to his attorney.
Joel Colindrés is not alone. According to statistics reported by the Washington Post, the number of undocumented immigrant arrests rose by roughly one-third in the first months of the Trump administration. Most of those arrested had no criminal record — the type of people Trump, on the campaign trail, said he would not disturb.
“Joel is the epitome of the American dream,” the couple’s attorney, Erin O’Neil Baker, said in an interview with Patch. “He has built such a beautiful and successful life here for himself … but unfortunately he is also the epitome of what the Trump administration is currently doing, which is taking everyone who does not have legal status and grouping them all together.”
According to Joel Colindrés, a number of thoughts raced through his head while he was confined to the same immigration office where he had checked in twice already since May. This time, he was forbidden to leave until he received an ankle bracelet to monitor his whereabouts.
Twenty-eight days to get out, he was told. Twenty-eight days.
“I was totally in shock, and I didn’t know what to do,” he recalled. “It’s very hard knowing you have 28 days to leave the country. I have a lot of people that I love here, especially my kids.”
Joel Colindrés came to the United States 13 years ago from Guatemala through Texas via a legal provisional waiver. His wife and children still in his future, he headed to New York, where some relatives lived, and spent years going through the necessary steps to become a citizen.
The process was moving along. Then ICE officials spelled his name wrong on a document, the family’s attorney told Patch.
Due to the error, the attorney said, Joel Colindrés never received an important letter — and missed a court date as a result. He was then issued a removal order in 2004.
He continued sending necessary documents to ICE over the years, the attorney said, both when he was single and after he married and had his two kids. For years, he checked in regularly with ICE agents, as his waiver required, and everything was deemed fine, every time, for him to continue to stay.
In a response sent to Patch about the case Tuesday, ICE misspelled “Colindrés” as “Calinders.”
Below is ICE’s statement in full.
“Joel Calinders-Guerra, an illegally present citizen of Guatemala, was issued a final order of removal by a federal immigration judge in 2004. Since then he has sought relief from removal via several court actions and has been denied each. On July 20, during a routine check-in, ICE chose not to take Calinders into custody and instead placed him in a GPS monitoring program. He was instructed to report back to ICE with an itinerary as proof he intends to comply with his removal order.”
“We have been doing this process the right way for years,” Samantha Colindrés said.
Baker, the family’s attorney, said these types of mistakes are not uncommon. When an individual enters the United States, they might not have permanent residency, meaning they do not have a long-term address to give when they are first are detained by ICE, she said.
In many of these cases, the attorney said, an immigrant will provide the address where they are currently living, but may eventually move. And even if they give their new address to the court, sometimes there is a cross in the mail, and the court won’t receive the new address before the hearing.
“There are a lot of reasons why a person might not get the right notice for the right time and might not appear,” Baker said in an interview with Patch. “And really, that is a death knell to someone’s immigration history, unfortunately. It is extremely difficult to reopen a removal order and prove to the court that it is the court’s fault they did not get notice. The burden really falls on the individual to prove they have done everything proper in notifying the court.”
Before she took on the family’s case, Baker said the issue of improper notice was already litigated in full, with no success. So she said she will instead be filing a motion to reopen Joel Colindrés’ removal order with the board of immigration appeals on a different basis.
“We are moving forward on a strong argument that Joel cannot return to his country because there has been a systematic targeting of his family members,” Baker said, “and, unbeknownst to Joel, three of his family members were murdered in the last year.”
These murders only recently came to light. Joel’s family had kept it from him, Baker said, because they didn’t want him to be upset. (To sign up for free, local breaking news alerts from more than 100 Connecticut communities click here.)
A number of news stories have popped up this year about immigrants who were facing deportation, but were allowed to stay thanks to last-minute support from government officials. Recently, Norwalk resident Nury Chavarria, a single mother of four, took sanctuary in a New Haven church in an attempt to avoid deportation.
In that case, Chavarria was granted an emergency stay on July 26.
Samantha Colindrés is hoping her husband will be able to join the list of those who made headlines and were eventually permitted to remain with their loved ones in America.
“Their case is very strong in the sense that if Joel didn’t have this removal order, then he would be very easily eligible for residency,” Baker said. “He has an approved marriage petition and a pending waiver. Once that waiver is granted, the removal order is basically expunged. He is following the rules, the laws are in place, the policies are in place, he’s doing the normal process, but it’s this old removal order that is the hindrance, and all he seeks is his time here in [America] for the next six months so these pending applications can be approved.”
In the meantime, the couple is in “fight mode” — protecting the children from their father’s plight while preparing for the worst and working as hard as they can to push back against the order.
“This was a day that will go down in history for all of our lives,” Samantha Colindrés said of July 20, “and one that I don’t think we will ever forget.”
Right after the couple received the bad news, they shared their story in a lengthy Facebook post.
“I never put stuff on Facebook,” Samantha Colindrés said. “Once in a while I post a cute kid picture or something, but nothing like this.”
They were originally unsure if the post would reach a lot of people. By the end of the weekend, though, it had already been shared 10,000 times. Since gaining traction on social media, the two have not stopped moving.
“We’ve been just go-go for the past week and half,” Samantha Colindrés said. “We just kind of went straight to fight mode, and we’re not going to stop until we get this story out there.”
The two held a rally Thursday in Hartford to #SaveJoelColindres, garnering the support of nearly 100 people.
The rally “was amazing, but it was also sad in a way,” Samantha Colindrés said. “We were seeing all this wonderful support, but for something that should not even be happening. It wasn’t the kind of support you see when someone gets a new job or has a baby; it was like support for somebody having to leave this country that should not have been given this notice in the first place.”
Support has also poured in from local government officials, including Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut who said his office has been in close contact with the family and their attorney. He said his team is actively working with ICE to pursue every possible option for the Colindrés family.
“As a father of two young kids, I can only imagine the pain Joel is going through right now at the thought of having to leave his 6-year-old son Preston and 2-year-old daughter Lila,” Murphy said in an email. “The Trump administration once again is irresponsibly targeting families. I think we all agree that our limited law enforcement resources should instead go to deporting dangerous criminals.”
Samantha Colindrés said the first person she called after receiving the news of her husband’s deportation was Sen. Richard Blumenthal, another Connecticut Democrat with whom she had previously been in contact.
“The fact that ICE would give a father only 28-days’ notice to leave his wife and children,” Blumenthal said in an email, “leaving next to no time to pursue legal remedies, is cold, callous and reprehensible. ICE approved Samantha Colindrés’ application to sponsor her husband’s visa but is now deporting him before he can proceed through the process for obtaining legal status pursuant to that approved sponsorship.”
Blumenthal also said he thinks ICE should allow Joel Colindrés to follow through on that sponsorship rather than permanently upend his family’s life.
“This nightmare is the direct result of the Trump administration’s decision to remove all reason and rationality from its immigration policies,” Blumenthal said, “and I continue to implore the President to end this nightmare and commit to true, bipartisan discussions to reform this broken immigration system in a way that respects our fundamental American values and morals.”
Anger and grief aside, Samantha Colindrés said the huge amount of support her family has received is not going unnoticed.
“That’s really what has been lifting us up through all this,” Colindrés said. “The power of people and social media and strangers. I’m so thankful that in this day and age we have that kind of reach.”
She said she hopes her family’s still-developing story can inspire other people in similar situations to fight back.
“Never give up, and just keep fighting for what you believe is right. Don’t be afraid to share your story,” Samantha Colindrés said. “We’ve had our struggles…but [we] are not going to stop fighting for what we believe is right.”
Father, Friend, Husband
Although Samantha Colindrés and her husband have seen a huge outpouring of support since he received his deportation notice, they have also run into some people who think they might be hiding certain details.
“Some people will say there has to be more to the story,” she said. “That [Joel] must be a criminal or something. My husband has honestly never gotten so much as a parking ticket.”
She said her husband also does not smoke or drink, and has never done a single drug in his life. He is a man of strong faith, she said, who continues to pray every night while wearing his ankle bracelet.
“He’s everything anyone would want in a father, a friend and a husband,” Samantha Colindrés said.
The couple’s 6-year-old son is “very attached” to his father, she said — so much so that he sets his alarm for 6 a.m. every morning just so he can see his dad before he heads to work.
The couple has worked to make sure their kids are not exposed to what they are currently dealing with. Yet regardless of their success, they have had to consider what they’ll tell the kids, should their daddy be forced to leave for Guatemala this month.
“Luckily, with technology, we could FaceTime every day,” Samantha Colindrés said. “But even Joel said he can’t imagine being away from them. He had to meet someone the other day and ended up texting me, ‘I’m away from you guys for one hour and it’s hurting me. I can’t even imagine being away from you all for a day.’”
Although the thought of leaving his family weighs heavily on his mind every moment, Joel Colindrés said he still has much to be comforted by as he and his wife continue to fight.
On July 27, he obtained a delegation letter of support from Blumenthal, Murphy and Rep. Elizabeth Etsy. The letter asks that ICE give a stay of his deportation full and fair consideration.
“ICE has confirmed that Mr. Colindrés has committed no crimes, contributes to his community, is employed, pays taxes and is raising a family,” the letter reads. “He should be granted every consideration possible to remain in the United States and continue his pathway to citizenship.”
Joel Colindrés said he also takes comfort in the strong show of support he has received from neighbors and strangers in America — a nation he loves and will do anything to remain a part of.
“I just want to say thank you for all the support out there. This is an amazing country, and I love this country,” he said. “God bless America.”
Follow the Save Joel Colindrés Facebook page for more information and updates on the family’s fight to #SaveJoelColindres.
Image courtesy of Samantha Colindrés