TAMPA — As their native Venezuela plunges deeper into chaos, William Paredes and his wife Jennifer Infante arrived at a Tampa immigration office Monday hoping to learn they'll be allowed to stay in the United States for a while longer.
The parents of two young children will have to wait a couple of more weeks to learn their fate.
A officer at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office told Paredes and Infante their petitions are being reviewed by officials in ICE's Miami office, said Paul Palacios, the family's attorney.
The family was directed to return March 26, when officials would have an answer, Palacios said.
"I consider that something positive because it means they're really looking into it, so we expect something positive in the end," Palacios said as he stood with the family in front of the ICE office on West Cypress Street.
Paredes said he hopes ICE will agree to delay their deportation for six months to a year.
ICE officials accepted their petitions to delay their deportation March 1 and told the family to return Monday.
The family contends that sending them back to Venezuela while President Nicolás Maduro is still in power would amount to a death sentence.
Paredes, 36, said he was working as a K-9 officer for the city of Maracaibo in 2013 when he was part of a big cocaine bust. Shortly after, he started receiving threatening phone calls from members of a collective, or colectivo. The armed groups emerged during the tenure of President Hugo Chávez and control vast territory across Venezuela, financed in some cases by the drug trade.
After he was threatened at gunpoint, Paredes and Infante, 35, came to Tampa with their son Sebastian on a tourist visa in 2014 and applied for asylum. Their application and subsequent appeals were denied. Meantime, they made a life in Tampa. Paredes works in construction; Infante is a phlebotomist. The couple has since had a second a child, a daughter named Madison who is a U.S. citizen and now 3 years old. Sebastian is 10.
As the family awaits their fate, they watch from afar as conditions in Venezuela continue to deteriorate.
A mismanaged state-controlled economy has made food and health care unavailable to many. Dissidents have been jailed and tortured. Maduro is resisting calls to step down and has blocked humanitarian aid. In recent days, a countrywide power outage has thrown the country deeper into chaos. President Donald Trump's administration, the same government that seeks to considering deporting the Paredes-Infante family, have slapped sanctions on Maduro's government to pressure him to step down.
"The situation in Venezuela is getting worse and worse by the minute, not better, so stay of removal of six months to a year is not asking much," Palacios said.
Some members of Congress say it's unconscionable to deport Venezuelans back to the country given the conditions there, and Florida senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are among lawmakers who have signed onto a bill that would grant Venezuelans living in the United States temporary protected status. The TPS program provides relief from deportation and access to a work permit for foreign nationals unable to safely return to their home country due to natural disasters, armed conflicts or other extraordinary conditions.
Jennifer Infante said her family has faith God that their family will be be ok, but they're worried about their loved ones in Venezula. She said her husband hasn't spoken to his family there in four days because the power outage and lack of internet access has robbed them of our ability to communicate with the outside world.
"It's very painful that we can do nothing for our Venezuelan brothers," Infante said.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.