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Heavy snow and intervention by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski kept illegal alien Ernesto Guillen wondering Tuesday whether he would be deported immediately after all.
The U.S. Customs and Immigration Services said Guillen needs to leave the country voluntarily by Feb. 3. Guillen was ready to return to his native Mexico, leaving his family in Juneau on Tuesday afternoon.
But heavy snowfall delayed his 2:15 p.m. flight. The plane was waiting in Petersburg to come to Juneau as soon as the weather was clear, Alaska Airlines announced every 30 minutes after 2:15 p.m.
"My brain is tired," Guillen said. "I don't know how to feel."
His flight finally took off at 8:14 p.m.
Before his family left for the airport Tuesday morning, a staff member for Murkowski, R-Alaska, informed the family that the senator had introduced a bill that would postpone Guillen's deportation until there is an administrative review and action on his case.
At the urging of Juneau residents and after interest from the governor's office, Murkowski introduced the legislation on humanitarian grounds.
"By all accounts Ernesto has been a hard-working asset to Alaska during his time in the state," Murkowski said in her statement. "If the community can come together to welcome the Guillen family to Alaska, then Congress can take a look at whether immigration law has proven too unwieldy to yield justice in this case."
Guillen worked at El Sombrero restaurant when he was arrested last spring. He has lived in Juneau for nine years, working at the restaurant off and on.
Murkowski, who started working on the Guillen case last summer, said she had run out of other avenues to assist Guillen following an immigration judge's ruling last fall against an appeal of his deportation order.
But a private immigration lawyer that Guillen's family contacted said the bill wouldn't allow Guillen to stay in the United States unless it passes, family friend Donna Perrin said.
If an illegal immigrant who is granted voluntary departure fails to leave, the person could be fined or barred for 10 years from changing his immigration status, according to the American Immigration Law Foundation.
Guillen decided to leave the United States to be on the safe side, his wife, Gloria Orozco, said. The family is unclear what Murkowski's action may do for them.
According to a written statement from Murkowski's office, the introduction of the relief bill would allow Guillen some time to petition the Department of Homeland Security Immigration Enforcement Division for a stay of his scheduled deportation. If Congress doesn't take any action, the bill will expire in two years at the end of the 109th Congress.
If passed, the bill would grant Guillen permanent-resident status. Congress is unlikely to pass it, however, said Elliott Bundy, Murkowski's staff member. He said Congress approved only a handful of private relief bills during the entire 108th Congress nationwide.
"What it really does is to grant him an extension," Bundy said. "In the meantime, Ernesto can try to get things fixed."
Guillen's four children, all U.S. citizens, took a day off from school to see their father off. After waiting for four hours at the Juneau International Airport, his wife Orozco went home to prepare some tacos and sandwiches.
When Guillen left, Orozco said she didn't have any more tears for the moment.
"When two people marry, two persons are in one," Orozco said. "One part of my body is cut. It's gone."