Central Minnesota farm worker faces possible deportation to Guatemala
EVANSVILLE, Minn. — Nancy Estrada was on the phone talking to her husband, Julio Estrada Escobar, when he told her, "I just got pulled over. This is it."
Julio and Nancy have lived in Evansville since 2013. But Julio doesn't have a Minnesota driver's license and is not a U.S. citizen.
Today, Julio sits in the Carver County Jail in Chaska waiting to find out if he is being deported back to his home country of Guatemala.
It was Saturday, July 22, in Otter Tail County, that Julio got pulled over. Julio and the couple's two children, Julio, 13, and Candis, 11, were on their way to visit Nancy. Nancy, who was born and raised in the United States, was working that weekend at a potato processing plant in Park Rapids.
Nancy explained that her kids had been at a Bible camp all week and she was really missing them so she asked Julio to bring the kids for a visit.
"Julio didn't want to drive up to Park Rapids because he was tired from working, but I begged and begged and guilted him into bringing them to see me," Nancy said.
She explained that a deputy met Julio, then turned around and followed him before pulling Julio over for "having darkened taillights."
When he was pulled over, Nancy said Julio provided his Guatemalan passport, his insurance card and a card his lawyer, Jason Nielson, gave him that states, "To Immigration or Other Officer: Right now I am choosing to exercise my legal rights. I will remain silent, and I refuse to answer your questions. If I am detained, I have the right to contact an attorney immediately. I refuse to sign anything without advice from an attorney."
Julio and Nancy obtained the lawyer earlier this year so they could start the process for Julio to receive his Green Card, officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, allowing a person to live and work permanently in the United States.
Nancy said the deputy called the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office immediately.
While on the phone with Julio as he was pulled over, she could hear the conversation between her husband and the Otter Tail County deputy. She heard Julio tell the deputy it was his wife's car and heard the deputy ask for Julio's visa. Julio told the deputy he didn't have one. Nancy heard the deputy ask her husband if he was in the country illegally. She heard her husband tell the deputy he wasn't going to answer the question and that's when he handed the deputy the card provided by Nielson.
At that point, Nancy got off the phone, left Park Rapids and headed to where her husband and children, and deputy, were sitting on the side of the road. They waited until the deputy was contacted by someone from the immigration office. Nancy said they sat for more than two hours before the deputy received word that an officer would be there within 30 minutes.
Shawn Neudauer, a regional spokesperson for ICE and the office of Homeland Security Investigation, told the newspaper that an officer from the U.S. Border Patrol took Julio into custody.
After the officer arrived and took Julio, Nancy took their children and left.
"My kids were crying and devastated," she said.
Nancy also said she saw that the deputy's eyes were welling up as well. She said the deputy told her it was not his intention to separate the family and that he was sorry.
Nancy said Julio was not cited for any type of traffic violation.
Life in Evansville
Julio, Nancy and their children live in Evansville and Julio works on a farm owned by Tim and Naomi Anderson. Nancy also works part time at a restaurant in Melby and helps on the farm when needed. Their children attend Ashby public schools.
Julio's employers, the Andersons, fully support him and are trying their best to help Julio and Nancy.
Tim Anderson said Nancy called him crying after he was pulled over and that they believed he would be home the next Monday.
"We were naive. I was naive," said Naomi Anderson. "They are both treasures. Julio is centered, smart, kind, caring, not violent. They've been a Godsend."
Tim said Julio is helpful and does whatever is asked of him.
"This has impacted our business and we've had to rearrange things. Luckily, Nancy's dad and his girlfriend moved up from Texas to support her and are now working for us," Tim said.
"He is very special to us," Naomi said of Julio. "I just don't understand. He's been here a decade and a half. It makes no sense economically (to keep him in custody). It makes no sense whatsoever."
Nancy said Julio had previously applied for asylum but was denied and did not apply for a visa because the $500 application was too much.
From the lawyer
According to the family's lawyer — he provided information to Nancy in an email — Julio's absence from his family has caused them extreme suffering as their son suffers from autism.
Since Julio was detained, "his wife has been forced to change jobs to be able to properly supervise their son, something she previously could coordinate with her husband. Her new job does not pay enough to maintain the family, and she has likewise been prompted to receive government assistance to keep the family afloat," the lawyer stated.
Nielson also said, "Mr. Estrada Escobar is not a flight risk and poses no threat to American society. He is a hard worker, and beloved community member of Evansville, Minnesota."
Nielson noted that many community members including Mayor Terry Aasness, drove to the Twin Cities for a hearing in Julio's case. At that hearing, a judge overturned a previous ruling that denied Julio's argument that his life would be in danger if he returned to Guatemala.
Julio is eligible for custody review on Saturday, Oct. 21, which is when he has completed 90 days of detention. At that review, the deportation officer who was assigned to Julio's case, Eric O'Denius, will read letters of support that have been submitted to his office.
Letters of support for Julio can still be sent to the deportation office. Naomi Anderson is handling the letters, and has a template to use if anyone wants to still send one. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She said she will make sure the officer gets the letters.
Nancy said Julio will then have a reasonable fear hearing, which she said has been scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 7.
"He has to prove that he fears going back to his country," Nancy said. "He had first cousins who were murdered. One was shot, one was poisoned and one was chopped up with a machete. Yes, he is scared to death he will be killed."
Nancy said if the courts decide there is credible fear, then Julio will be able to remain in the United States. He would be given a temporary work visa, which he will have to renew every year.
If the fear is not substantiated, Nancy said a deportation order would be issued and Julio would remain in custody. If that happens, the family will appeal, she said.
"Julio is not a criminal. He doesn't have a record. I just don't understand," Nancy said. "All he wants is to be with his family."