He had a life, a family, and a job in Maine, but Otto Morales-Caballeros is now waiting in a jail, about to be deported to Guatemala.
“My husband’s only crime was wanting to live here and work for a living, but the government tore our family apart,” said his wife, Sandra Scribner Merlim, who is fighting to bring him back to Naples, Maine.
She said her husband fled the violence in Guatemala as a teenager, and made the mistake of waiting more than a year to apply for asylum in the U.S. She said back then, he was told to simply lay low, work under the table, and stay out of trouble.
Morales spent two decades making a life in Maine – and obtained a fake social security number so he could hold down a job.
In 2013, he was convicted of felony use of fraudulent documents. According to Merlim, her husband struck a deal with immigration officials and prosecutors to stay in the country, despite the conviction.
“He wasn’t legal, and he wasn’t illegal,” she said. “He was somewhere in between. They were letting him stay with deferred action.”
But that changed shortly after President Trump took office, and tightened immigration policies.
Morales-Caballeros was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on April 12, on his way to work.
A spokesperson for ICE released a written statement:
“On April 12, ICE officers arrested Otto Morales-Caballeros, a citizen of Guatemala, on an outstanding removal order issued by a federal immigration judge in 2010. Otto Morales-Caballeros was convicted on federal charges of felony use of fraudulent documents in 2013. He will remain in ICE custody pending his removal from the United States.”
Merlim, who did not vote for Donald Trump, expects her husband to be in Guatemala by Thursday. She has already filed a petition to begin the waiver process, with hopes of eventually bringing him back to the United States. She said if that doesn’t work out, she could move to Guatemala, or they could apply for asylum together in Canada.
As Merlim searches for a new attorney to take her husband’s immigration case, she says her husband’s story should serve as a warning to other immigrants in the country.
“When our new President said he was just going to take out the violent criminals and bad hombres, they weren’t talking about my husband,” she said.