Monday evening was perhaps the last day Ernesto Guillen would spend with his family for a long time. He is an illegal immigrant whose U.S. residency may have been blocked by a bureaucratic mistake, and the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services said he has to return to Mexico.
Guillen didn't get the hearing he was hoping for Monday, the last day to appeal his case before his deportation. Although his friends gave him a list of lawyers' names and phone numbers to help reopen the case, his phone calls to the attorneys weren't returned. His lawyers in Anchorage said there was nothing they could do to stop his departure, Guillen said.
Family friend Judith Maier said Guillen's story has attracted the attention of "people higher up" in the state and Washington, D.C. Maier refrained from naming the people who are helping Guillen for fear of jeopardizing the case. But a previous report indicated staff for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and the wife of the governor's chief of staff had shown interest in his predicament.
"It's such a difficult case. We just don't know until the last minute," said Maier, who organized a party in December to write petition letters for Guillen. "We are still waiting for the magic phone call."
Another friend, Donna Perrin, kept checking e-mails to see if anyone in a position of power had reversed the immigration judge's decision. By the Empire's press time, the magic e-mail hadn't come.
Guillen, who first crossed the Mexico-U.S. border 17 years ago, has been deported four times. The family recently discovered that a petition for his U.S. residency had been partially approved in 2002, but the family had never received notification, despite repeated attempts to ascertain his status.
Guillen might not be able to return to the United States for several years. He said he was upset about the upcoming separation but managed to stay cheerful.
"What will be will be," said Guillen through a translator.
The atmosphere in the Guillens' green mobile home at Switzer Village was both relaxed and tense.
Guillen, who is scheduled to leave Juneau for his native Mexico at 2:15 this afternoon, was watching the movie "A Day without a Mexican" with his wife, two of their four children and two friends. The movie, by Sergio Arau, tells the tale of a California thrown into chaos after all its Hispanic residents mysteriously disappear.
The family laughed when the movie showed all the restaurants in California putting out "closed" signs because no Mexicans waited the tables or cooked the meals.
However, their laughter froze whenever the phone rang. They looked at one another, each hesitating to be the first to pick up the phone.
"We are still hoping things will change," said Gloria Orozco, Guillen's wife of 12 years.
Orozco said she was angry and frustrated last week but has become hopeful now.
"We are accepting the fact," said Orozco, a permanent resident who will be able to apply for permanent residency for Guillen once she becomes a naturalized citizen.
To support her family, Orozco works as a custodian part-time at Northern Light United Church, runs a day-care center at home and makes tamales for sale. She will now have to save money to visit her husband in Mexico.
"I hope more Americans can know what happened to my family and help change the law," Orozco said.
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.