Luis Blanco got a break before, when he came to the attention of immigration authorities after a 2014 traffic offense in North Carolina.
A father of six and a Mexican national who has lived in Plant City for 20 years, Blanco was allowed to remain in the United States under a humanitarian stay he had to renew each year.
Not this time.
As his family and about 30 human rights activists carried signs of support outside the Tampa offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Blanco, 40, learned he will be sent to a detention center in Miami to await a final decision on whether he will be deported.
His family and his attorney are resolved that he’s gone.
"It was pretty heartbreaking because my dad, he just wants the best for us," said daughter Jennifer Blanco, 15. "I know we’re all scared and he’s scared to be back into detention."
The action comes as President Donald Trump’s administration makes good on a pledge to further accelerate a deportation process stepped up under the administration of former President Barack Obama. Trump aims to dramatically reduce U.S. immigration overall.
Blanco had hoped authorities would reconsider when he showed up Tuesday morning at the ICE offices at 5524 W Cypress St. His attorney, Daniela Hogue, said their minds seemed made up to stand by a decision in December denying Blanco’s petition to remain in the United States.
"They simply looked at the immigration violation, whether it happened 20 years ago or today," giving no consideration to the "hardship this family is having," Hogue said.
"I’m not surprised," she added, "considering the stand this administration is taking."
Blanco had been deported before, in 1998, but he risked an illegal return and made his way back into the United States. He remained off authorities’ radar until the traffic offense four years ago.
Instead of deportation then, he was granted the humanitarian stay as the sole financial supporter of his family. He works in construction.
His children are U.S. citizens, born in this country, and he and his wife, Lourdes Medrano, are expecting a seventh child. Medrano, 30, is in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, allowing children brought to the United States illegally to remain here under certain conditions.
The DACA program is at the center of debate now under way in Washington over the future of U.S. immigration policy. Medrano’s DACA status expires next January.
"This is a very sad day for us," Medrano said Tuesday upon learning her husband is headed straight to the Krome Detention Center in Miami. "I do not know how we’re going to live without him. My children and I need him very much. This is inhuman."
Shortly before entering the ICE offices, Blanco thanked those who turned out to demonstrate Tuesday.
"We are not criminals," Blanco said. "We have only come to this country to work and help our families. I ask our authorities to consider all the families who are suffering and who have to pay for their pain, like mine."
Among those who turned out Tuesday was the Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, who prayed with Blanco.
The Council on American Islamic Relations of Florida also showed its support.
"Leaving a family without a father does not make the community safer," said CAIR’s Norma Henning. "We support our undocumented brothers and sisters in the defense of human decisions and policies that fulfill the promise of this great nation."
Blanco’s oldest daughter, 19-year-old Sonya Medrano, held one of her siblings in her arms and said she’ll need to step up as breadwinner with her mother pregnant.
"How would you feel to be ripped apart from your family, man?" she said. "My dad is not a bad person. My dad loves us all."
Contact Juan Carlos Chavez at [email protected] CENTRO is a sister publication of the Tampa Bay Times.