WOODHAVEN, Queens — A Queens family is making a Thanksgiving plea to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release their father, who’s been detained and is facing imminent deportation to Colombia.
Juan Villacis reported to Federal Plaza earlier this month for a regular check-in, when he was taken into custody. His wife, Liany Guerrero, and their fraternal twin daughters, Maria and Liany, are preparing to spend their first Thanksgiving without him.
“He [Juan Villacis] saw it as the best time to bring us all together and to bring friends together as well, for all of us to forget about everything going on with the rest of our lives and just sit down and be thankful,” Maria Villacis said about her father.
The family shared photos from past Thanksgivings, showing Juan beaming with pride over his Thanksgiving meal and embracing his loved ones.
“Normally my dad would’ve bought the turkey several days before, he would be planning out what the menu would be. He would start prepping early with my mom. He would call us in to help out, because he loved to have us in the kitchen. We are very much Americanized and we love that idea of Thanksgiving and bringing the family together because we’re a very close family and we normally have dinner together every night,” added Maria.
But this year, Juan is spending the holiday at a detention center in Bergen County and it’s unclear if he will ever be able to spend another holiday in the U.S. again. His family says they’re unable to visit him tomorrow, because he is not allowed visitors on Thursdays, no exceptions.
“I called Bergen County Jail yesterday and I said 'is there any way I can visit my dad on Thanksgiving' and they said 'no,'” said Maria.
Earlier in the day, the family held a news conference at the offices of advocacy group Make the Road in Queens. His wife, Liany, says they appreciate the outpouring of support.
“I feel very sad, it’s a very difficult time for our family, my daughters have been a tremendous support for me, as have others.”
The family came to the United States legally with a B2 visa in 2001 from Colombia hoping to gain political asylum. Juan is Ecuadorian, his wife, Colombian. They have struggled to receive political asylum, but through the years, they showed up for every check-in. Now with proposed changes by the Trump Administration, the future for this family is uncertain. His wife is also in danger of deportation. Her next check in at Federal Plaza is January 15 – and she’s been ordered to show up with a one-way ticket out of the country.
“Tomorrow for Thanksgiving, my Dad might not be at the table and then Jan. 15, it might just be my sister and I,” said Liany.
“You walk into that room in Federal Plaza, you see the fear in everyone’s faces. The day Dad was detained, everyone would look at us and they know what happened because that’s everyone’s biggest fear in that room, which is exactly what happened to us that day. You can never feel safe, you’re always afraid of the next check-in, you don’t know if your fears will come true, which is what happened to us this time,” Maria said.
The girls are both under DACA status and their fate is also up in the air. Liany graduated from Baruch College last year, Maria is set to do the same next month. They tell us their father worked hard to become a certified physical therapist. He also cares for his elderly mother who is an American citizen. He has no criminal record. For the past 17 years, he has gone to every check-in. He was doing just that on Nov. 15 when he was immediately detained and not even allowed to say goodbye to his family.
“It feels like an injustice from one day to another, my dad’s gone. He told me all I want is to be with my family to be here with you guys, and he’s not here right now,” said Liany.
“We are a very close family so he’s very worried about us and we about him so we’re all just trying to be strong for each other. We saw him the other day, you could see the sadness in his eyes. But we want him to be strong because we’re trying to be strong for him out here,” said Maria.
The sisters say their father loves his family, and he loves his country. They are now urging ICE to review his case. PIX11 has reached out to ICE multiple times to get answers as to exactly why Mr. Villacis is being deported. We are waiting to hear back. Juan could be deported as early as next month.