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Florida family faces deportation to Peru after 25-year asylum quest

Tribune News Service logoTribune News Service 2018-12-15 By Lisa Maria Garza, Orlando Sentinel
a couple of people posing for the camera: Martha Garcia, Miguel Torres-Bruno, and their son Juan Miguel at their Davenport, Fla., home, on December 12, 2018. © Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Martha Garcia, Miguel Torres-Bruno, and their son Juan Miguel at their Davenport, Fla., home, on December 12, 2018.

A few string lights and a Santa figurine on the front lawn of Miguel Torres-Bruno and Martha Garcia's Davenport, Fla., home are the only traces of Christmas as the days tick off until their deportation to Peru Jan. 2 after a 25-year tumultuous journey trying to gain political asylum.

Torres-Bruno, a 60-year-old Argentinian citizen, and his wife, a 61-year-old native of Peru, have been living in Florida with their son, Juan Miguel Torres-Bruno, 26, since they arrived on a tourist visa in 1993, seeking asylum after terrorist attacks in Lima.

It took seven years for their case to be heard and by then an immigration judge determined that the terrorism threat in the South American country had diminished and denied their request. But the family has been allowed to remain in the U.S. under "stay of removal" orders approved annually as they fought to have their case reopened - until now.

"We did everything we were supposed to," Miguel Torres-Bruno said. "Now, we have to reinvent our life and start all over again like we're in our 20s."

The couple's last-ditch effort to stay in the U.S. was turned down last week as part of President Donald Trump's zero tolerance policy - no undocumented immigrants are exempt from removal.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that "both cases received full due process" and that "pursuing repeated (stay of removals) is not a viable means ... to permanently postpone their required return to their country of origin."

Their son is temporarily protected from deportation because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. His latest renewal expires in September 2019, but Trump is trying to phase out the program started under President Barack Obama.

"I'm proud of who I am and where I'm from but this is my home," said Juan Miguel Torres-Bruno, who works as a personal trainer. "I don't know any different."

A similar emotional deportation case involving another Davenport family played out this summer.

On Aug. 3, Alejandra Juarez, the wife of a Marine veteran, was deported to Mexico - taking her 9-year-old daughter with her and leaving her teenage daughter behind with her husband - after failed attempts to stay in the U.S., which she entered illegally in 1998 to escape death threats.

Juarez tried in vain for 20 years to remain in the U.S., especially after her undocumented status was revealed in 2013 during a traffic stop. Her husband is a naturalized citizen from Mexico and their children are also U.S. citizens.

Torres-Bruno and Garcia cited volatile conditions as their reason for fleeing to the U.S.

A year before the couple's arrival in Florida with their infant son, the Shining Path rebel group launched its deadliest attack on Lima, the Peruvian capital, by detonating a car bomb in an upscale neighborhood.

Twenty-five people were killed and 155 were wounded in an incident that was part of a years-long violent campaign against the Peruvian government.

Martha Garcia holds a stack of work permit and government identifications at the family's Davenport, Fla., home, on December 12, 2018. © Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Martha Garcia holds a stack of work permit and government identifications at the family's Davenport, Fla., home, on December 12, 2018.

"It was scary because of the baby. I was sick and tired of terrorism," Torres-Bruno said. "I wanted a better life for our son ... without having to worry about (being) killed one day by a bullet or car bomb."

The explosion left the family's home without power or water and there was chaos in the streets.

"It was terrible - we were living in like a cave," Miguel Torres-Bruno said. "Innocent people were dying for nothing."

But things didn't go smoothly with their request for political asylum and red tape dogged the couple.

Around the time of their request, the U.S. Department of Justice said the "asylum system was in a crisis" and blamed the "severe backlog" of cases on a lack of resources and an inefficient claim process.

Finally, in 2000 the couple got the news - their request had been denied. Having established roots in Florida, the family appealed. But in 2004, after complications including missing evidence from their original asylum filing they thought could help, the appeal was denied.

The ruling was a blow to the couple considering that Garcia's sister and extended family, which simultaneously fled from the same conditions in Peru, were granted asylum within months of their arrival and are now U.S. citizens.

Living in South Florida at the time, Torres-Bruno and Garcia said they were unaware that the appeal denial was equivalent of an immediate order of deportation and the family moved north, buying a home in a Davenport gated community.

The couple prospered selling vacation timeshares and are worried that their decades of paying taxes, especially into Social Security, will go to waste after they're deported.

"Every year we get the employment authorization," Garcia said. "We never work without it."

While the couple continued to hire immigration lawyers to get their case reopened, they supported their son through his rise as a star quarterback for Celebration High School.

Before a big game in 2010, ICE agents showed up at their home and arrested Miguel Torres-Bruno because of the long-standing deportation order.

He was released six hours later at the agency's discretion and the family has filed stay-of-removal requests, which were approved routinely every year when Barack Obama was president.

Now, however, ICE has told the couple they must leave. Their latest stay of removal request submitted Nov. 26 was denied.

The family's lawyer, Daniela Carrion, said the couple's extensive medical history and need for ongoing treatment should be considered for another yearlong reprieve.

Miguel Torres-Bruno had triple-bypass heart surgery a few years ago and Garcia was treated for hepatitis C, which resulted in multiple side effects including vasculitis - a severe inflammation of blood vessels in her legs.

"At this point, ICE is sending a pretty strong message - 'we're going to deny stay of removals despite the fact that they meet the requirements of eligibility,'" Carrion said.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., said his office sent letters to ICE and is trying to persuade the agency to use its discretion and grant the Torres-Bruno family more time to remedy their situation.

The Torres-Bruno family's case "illustrates that the United States is deporting people who are already integral to the fabric of our community," Soto said. "It serves no great state interest to deport long-term residents like Mr. Torres-Bruno and Mrs. Garcia."

The couple said they don't blame Trump for their inability to resolve their status, noting that the immigration system was broken long before the president took office.

"God knows more than us and we have to keep going," said Miguel Torres-Bruno, who set up the sparse holiday decorations to cheer up his wife and son.

But despite the looming deportation deadline, Juan Miguel Torres-Bruno said he's not giving up and is urging people to sign an online petition and contact their congressional representative sin hope that his family's plight reaches the White House.

"I owe them my life - they gave me everything," he said of his parents. "I'm still going to keep fighting."

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

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