Veronica Delgado fears for her own life after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained her husband, Mario Carlos Amaya Ortega. With the help of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, she is urging ICE to stop his deportation.
In 2001 Delgado, age sixty, was diagnosed with non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis, a life-threatening liver disease. At a press conference on Tuesday, June 12, she said she needs her husband to care for her and potentially save her life by donating his own liver if hers fails.
“It’s potentially a life-or-death situation,” said CIRC campaign director Brendan Greene at thepress conference.
Ortega was moved from the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora to a detention facility in Florence, Arizona, on Friday, June 8, and, according to Greene, could be deported at “any day, any moment. He might not be here now. We don’t have any way of knowing.” Delgado, a U.S. citizen who has lived in Denver all her life, is at stage 3 of the disease and will need a transplant if the disease moves into stage 4.
Ortega, who has no criminal history, was detained by ICE on May 26 at the construction site where he was working. Delgado does not know how ICE was informed of her husband's undocumented status or his whereabouts. She received a text from him that day stating that he had to give the officers his name and other information, and that he didn't know what was going to happen.
Ortega migrated to the U.S. from El Salvador in 2007. According to his attorney, Catherine Chan, he was fleeing gang violence in El Salvador after MS-13 members, who Ortega believes were looking for his brother, entered and began firing their weapons in his home. He applied for asylum within a year after his arrival to the U.S.; however, documents from a March 2010 court hearing order his voluntary departure, and he is now being charged with ignoring that order.
But according to Chan, the judge who presided over Ortega’s 2010 case was known for failing to give asylum seekers details about their arrangements in the U.S., including the amount of time they would be allowed to stay legally. Ortega told Chan that he did not remember ever receiving or being read these advisements.
Chan and CIRC are now pleading with ICE to exercise humanitarian discretion to grant a stay of three months so that they can determine whether the judge actually gave the advisements. If he did not, Chan would be able to either reopen Ortega’s previous asylum case — or, in the more likely situation that no new evidence is found that would support that case, she could file a motion to terminate the case so that Ortega could apply for a changed status based on his marriage to Delgado. He would still have to leave the country, but not under a court order, and he could apply to return as a green-card holder.
If ICE does not grant the stay, or if Chan finds that Cordova did give the advisements, Ortega would be charged with failure to comply with a voluntary departure order, and ICE would effectuate the deportation. Chan said that Ortega would have to apply for a green card while he is abroad, a process that could potentially take up to two years, and would have a harder time coming back to the U.S. legally.
According to Delgado, those may be two years she wouldn’t be able to survive without him.
Delgado says that since being diagnosed with NASH, she has had to constantly monitor her health, including limiting her iron and sugar intake and taking multiple medications. She has also suffered from related complications including thyroid failure, Type II diabetes, and severe depression from the stress and fear associated with constant health scares and the struggle to make ends meet while paying for medical care.
“When somebody tells you you’re going to die in a year, you’re thinking, how am I going to die, where am I going to die? What’s going to happen? All that is just in your brain,” Delgado said.
Delgado met Ortega in 2013, and they soon began living together. Earlier this year, they married. “He’s been very patient with me, very caring, and I miss him,” Delgado explained through tears. “I miss the care he has given me, the love he’s shown for me, and him not to worry about it, that I was gonna be fine. ... He’s just a very sweet person and I miss all that — and now there’s nobody for me to call and say, ‘I need this.’”
Delgado explained that Ortega has given her not only the financial support, but also the care and love she needed to survive. “Since I met him, he’s made my life change dramatically.” Before meeting Ortega, she had attempted suicide twice. “He changed all that,” she said. "He took care of me all these years I’ve been with him. It’s very hard for me to be apart right now; I need him here, for everything. And I wish I could do more and I just can’t. I feel like I’m not doing anything. It’s just very devastating for me. The stress I’m going through is just getting worse and worse, and I don’t even know if I want to continue.”
Ortega is a willing donor, though doctors haven't determined whether he's a match. Delgado's only option if Ortega is deported or if his liver isn't a match would likely be to join the liver transplant wait list, which currently has 14,794 names, according to statistics from the American Transplant Foundation.
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Chan noted that the Trump administration's crackdown on undocumented immigrants presents further challenges to the case. First of all, according to Chan, ICE has increasingly been arresting immigrants like Ortega, who have no criminal record. Chan also added that before the Trump administration, ICE could have granted a longer temporary stay on humanitarian grounds, but a February 2017 memo issued by the administration limited the ways in which ICE can use humanitarian discretion. Though the guidelines still aren’t clear-cut, “ICE is a lot more aggressive, we think, and a lot less inclined to take action for people. So this is kind of a Hail Mary,” Chan said.
Delgado herself is well aware of that reality. “I know how the system works here,” Delgado said. “I try to stay strong, but I’m reaching my limits.”
CIRC will release a petition asking community members to join Delgado in urging ICE to use discretion in her husband’s case. “We need to have faith that they’re going to do the right thing,” Greene said.
“I don’t say this out loud about many cases, but when somebody’s life is on the line in this time frame, then it’s quite an unusual case; it certainly merits discretion,” Chan said. Both Ortega and Delgado hold steady jobs, “contributing to the economy and welfare. ... He should not be a priority for deportation considering he has [committed] no crimes.”