WILLMAR — Tulio Portillo fled Honduras about a decade ago after being beaten unconscious and tortured and experiencing threats against his family, according to his wife, Chelsea.
“Honduras is a very dangerous place. There’s a lot of gang activity and very little police presence,” Chelsea said.
Portillo, currently held in the Kandiyohi County Jail pending deportation proceedings, was picked up for driving while impaired, his second DWI, in September. When Portillo posted a bond, he was sent into the hands of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who then detained him for being undocumented.
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Undocumented people can be picked up for a variety of things, according to Nancy Hasset, a leader with Sanctuary and Resistance to Injustice.
“It’s kind of the wild west with ICE,” she said, adding that people can be arrested for small things, like driving without a license.
“Which is a catch-22 because in Minnesota, the Legislature won’t give them a way to get a license,” Hasset said.
According to Hasset, a lot of offenders come from the Northern Triangle — a region in central America that includes El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — because of threats of violence or political unrest.
The Portillos were in the process of gaining citizenship for Tulio, according to Chelsea, with paperwork being filed shortly after their marriage in 2017.
The pandemic slowed the process, and they had been waiting on an appointment to be made for Portillo to travel to Honduras to decide if he could qualify for a visa or permanent residency.
“That was our last step and he would have been legal. And then we obviously had to start over once he got in trouble with immigration,” she said.
The first week without him was the hardest, Chelsea said. She’s not currently working and Portillo’s income from working at a restaurant is no longer there.
She’s done fundraisers but “it’s been really hard because Tulio’s been gone for the last four months and I’ve been trying to get money to pay bills,” Chelsea said.
Their son, 18-month-old Ryan, is starting to have developmental issues.
He’s growing fine, according to Chelsea, but he’s not speaking as much as he should be. She’s been referred to specialists to help.
Ryan would frequently wake up in their North Branch apartment crying for his dad, looking around the room for him, according to Chelsea.
“That’s scary to me because who knows if Tulio was still here if any of that would happen,” Chelsea said.