A Guatemalan immigrant and father of five children, all U.S. citizens, is fighting for his right to stay in the country with his family. Marco Gonzalez fled torture at the hands of Guatemalan guerillas 20 years ago, only to have a minor legal misstep when he first arrived threaten to send him back.
Gonzalez, who now lives in Detroit, didn’t know that pleading guilty to check fraud would make him a felon and jeopardize his legal right to stay in the country. He was living in Florida soon after arriving in the U.S. with no English skills, and the owner of the bakery where he worked withheld his wages. Gonzalez was paid $300 a week for up to 90 hours of work, he said, but when he tried to deposit the check, it bounced.
Gonzalez was arrested, and advised by a lawyer to accept a guilty plea so he could be released the same day. He did, and completed jail time, community service, and probation. Gonzalez has no other criminal charges.
Gonzalez, who has help the same job for a pool construction company since 1999 and is his family’s sole source of income, filed for asylum after fleeing war-torn Guatemala. According to Michigan United, a grassroots organization, Gonzalez isn’t safe from violence despite the fact that the ICE has determined he must return to a now-peaceful country.
“Mr. Gonzalez's youth in Guatemala was harrowing,” Michigan United wrote in a statement. “During the civil war, he was repeatedly held by force by anti-government forces. When he refused to fight with them, he was tortured and imprisoned in a cave for months. He eventually escaped, and was able to claim asylum in the U.S. The insurgents are still active as criminal gangs in his home area, and often take violent revenge on returning refugees who did not support their cause during the war.”
“A small mistake almost 20 years ago shouldn’t cause a family to be broken apart,” said Raquel Garcia Anderson of Michigan United. “The Obama Administration has said that they won’t be going after hard-working parents, but that’s clearly not the case. As we approach the Administration’s two millionth deportation, it is families like the Gonzalez’s that are paying the price.”
Gonzalez’ children would have to go on public assistance if he were to leave.
Anderson pleaded with the Gonzalez family for help from U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit). She said they are reviewing the case, and hopes they well recommend a stay on deportation until his appeal is heard.
"I'm very sad,” Gonzalez told MLive over the holidays. "Now it's more sad because everyone is home from school... They want to ask for the gift of me staying in the United States with them."