Since their family moved to the United States 16 years ago, she and her twin sister, Maria, were inseparable from their parents Juan Villacis and Liany Guerrero.
But the family recently spent Thanksgiving apart, just one of the hardships the Woodhaven family has had to endure now that their father is facing deportation.
Villacis, a 57-year-old native of Ecuador, and 53-year-old Guerrero, from Colombia, were granted administrative stays of removal in 2012 and have been required to report to ICE once every 12 months.
The couple appeared for their annual check-in on October 18 and later filed new stays of removal on October 31. They were told to report back on November 15, the first day after their most recent stays had expired.
It was then that ICE denied their new applications and detained Villacis for imminent removal.
Years ago, Guerrero submitted a credible asylum claim, but it was rejected because of a mistake made by the family's immigration attorney at the time.
Speaking last Wednesday at Make the Road New York’s Jackson Heights office, neither the family or their lawyer, Jillian Hoppman, had any idea when Villacis could be deported.
Hoppman said the deportation could take three weeks or it could be a matter of days, all the while Villacis sits in Edison County Jail in New Jersey.
“When ICE looks at him, they don’t see a husband or father or son, they see a deportation statistic,” Hoppman said.
According to Hoppman, Villacis’ passport expires in December and that’s another reason why ICE had a “target” on him.
“If they targeted the drug dealers and aggravated felons, they would have a lot of deportations within two or three months because those people have no relief,” Hoppman said. “Or they wait for the good people to show up.”
She said she was told by ICE agents that most people don’t show up to their hearings, so she was shocked to see “the good ones” like Villacis and Guerrero turn up to their hearing and still be treated in the manner that they were.
Guerrero said she cannot understand why ICE would remove her husband from their family, especially since they have tried to comply with all the regulations.
“It’s been a very difficult time for my family,” said Guerrero, who is currently undergoing medical treatments. “My daughters studied very hard, our home has many rules and we are very good people. We love this country.”
Their daughters are both DACA recipients. When the father's application was denied and he was taken into detainment, Villacis did not even have the opportunity to hug his family goodbye.
“My parents have wrapped up their lives in Colombia and Ecuador just to come here and give us a better life,” Maria said. “Now my dad is going to have to wrap up his life because of an injustice.”
After working years while studying English and physical therapy, Villacis earned a physical therapy license last year. When he was detained, the first question he asked was what would happen to the six patients he was scheduled to see the next day.
He was also the caretaker for everyone in the small family. Their grandmother, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, is permanently disabled. Villacis had taken the sole responsibility of looking after his mother, from “putting food on the table to attending all of her appointments with her,” according to Liany.
Villacis had obtained an immigrant visa through his mother's petition, and though it was approved, it is still technically pending.
Hoppman called Villacis the “ideal immigrant,” who has paid his taxes every year since 2002, owns a home, and has not committed any crimes.
As days pass, his daughters say Villacis wants to volunteer at the Edison County Jail while he’s there.
Maria will be graduating from Baruch College in December, and the two girls hope to have their father by their side on that day.
“When I graduated, it was one of the best days for me just to see my parents in the crowd, crying because of everything we’ve been able to accomplish as a family,” Liany said. “It would be everything, everything to us if our father could be there and if my sister could have the same experience that I had.
“My parents have always kept us close and they’ve always had a passion for education,” she added. “To get me and my sister ahead, they worked tirelessly.”
The twins’ dad always wanted to be informed about the news in the community and throughout the world. He would cut out newspaper clippings and save them to show his daughters.
“There’s an image about immigrants in this country,” Maria said. “Everyone in the U.S. assumes that immigrants are a certain way, and we’re not all the same kind of people so we don’t deserve the same kind of treatment.
“People assume that the people who are in our position are those that have committed crimes and don’t deserve to be here, but there are good families like us,” she added.
Though she did not want to give away details, Hoppman said she has found new evidence since Villacis had been detained. She hopes to file new relief for him to at least stall the immediate deportation.
“This is not the only story,” said Luba Cortes, a youth organizer for Make the Road New York. “We know that everyday there is another community member that is held captive by this immigration system that continues to criminalize and target immigrant communities.
“We don’t want families to be separated, and we don’t want individuals to be deported,” Cortes added. “We want everyone to have the same opportunity because many of them are here to help and contribute to the economy.”
“We’re all trying to do our best in this country, we love this country,” Maria said. “My dad is still thankful of this country and he’s happy to have had the opportunity to live here. He wants to remain here.”