Sunday ICE raids didn’t happen in Miami, but immigrants still live in fear
The Doral delivery-man gets dressed for work each morning and peers out the peephole of his front door. He sees nothing. Not even the sun is up.
He opens the door and peeks his head out, looking both ways as if he’s crossing the street.
The man, who the Miami Herald agreed not to identify because he does not have legal status, has lived in the United States for 13 years after arriving from Venezuela on a tourist visa. He said that if he is deported to his home country, he will be killed.
“This isn’t a life,” he said Sunday, as he awaited possible detention during threatened immigration raids.
Earlier in the morning, the delivery driver went to work, fearful of the raids which were supposed to take place in several cities around the country, including Miami. The raids were meant to target undocumented immigrants like himself, who have received deportation orders.
But the raids never materialized, and Sunday morning was quiet in South Florida.
The man, who used to work as a paramedic in Caracas, sipped a cafe con leche Sunday while waiting for his food delivery service to get a customer. He spent the rest of the morning trying to fill orders from Burger King and Wendy’s.
Although immigrant rights groups and attorneys encouraged undocumented immigrants to stay home and not answer the door, the man took the risk, he said, because he has to pay his bills. Besides, he said, his case is peculiar. He was given a deportation order despite already having an appointment with immigration officials later this week. He showed the Herald a signed document confirming the appointment, which his immigration attorney, Sandy Pineda, also confirmed.
In May, Pineda said, an ICE officer told her client to buy a plane ticket for a direct flight from the U.S. to Venezuela without asking him any questions about his case. (Direct flights from the U.S. to Venezuela do not exist.) He must come back to the Miramar ICE office this week to prove he has an itinerary to return to his home country.
Pineda, a managing attorney at the law firm of Angel Leal, said it is unlikely he will be prioritized during raids, but he is still at risk of being deported. He could be detained because of the order to deport him, but it’s just as likely for him to be left alone because his meeting was already scheduled.
“No one’s ever safe,” Pineda said. “It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Her client is one of millions of Venezuelans who have fled what once was one of the wealthiest nations in the Western hemisphere. The former-paramedic recalled working at a pizzeria with other Venezuelan immigrants who left their old lives behind, including their careers in journalism, engineering, architecture and law.
“How impressive,” he said, jokingly.
He and his family are known to be staunch supporters of the opposition against current Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, Pineda said. Since he arrived in the U.S., the man has been trying to apply for asylum but to no avail. He appealed every time it was denied.
He’s certain he would die if he’s deported to Venezuela because he was almost shot in the head more than a decade ago, he said.
It was August 2006 in Caracas. The man was opening the door to get inside the building he lived in when five men came up behind him. They were all armed, wearing red berets, he said.
The men grabbed him and brought him to the back of the building. He said he thought he would be robbed, but he was wrong. The group began to beat him with their pistols, calling him a fascist and coup-plotter.
One of the attackers told another to shoot him. One of them brought a pistol to the man’s head and pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t fire.
That’s when the man knew he couldn’t stay in Venezuela. “I knew perfectly that they will kill me,” he said.
He gathered his things and left a month later in September 2006. His mother, who was already a U.S. citizen, filed a petition for her son to be in the U.S. legally while he applied for asylum. His petition was unsuccessful, and he received an order of deportation in 2009.
In 2018, Pineda was able to get him a stay of deportation, allowing him to stay for a year. She said she is working to reopen his case.
Today, the man lives in fear and only relaxes when he’s safe in bed. Only legal status can bring him peace, he said.
“It’s the power to participate and be part of the system, in every meaning of the word, in this country,” he said. “This country has given me great opportunities... It’s where you can build, crystallize your dreams.”
But the future of his legal status remains uncertain, and with that uncertainty comes the fear of being apprehended during an immigration raid.
“Everyone has to be ready,” Pineda said. “It’s coming.”