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Facing the abyss

Diaz family's fate hangs on Thursday subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C.
by: Jonathan House, Luis Diaz Sr. pulls luggage out onto the family’s deck in preparation for his wife and two oldest children to pack up their belongings in the event they are forced to return to Guatemala.

A committee hearing today in Washington, D.C., could decide whether the Diaz family will be torn apart or remain together.

U.S. Rep. David Wu and his staff are leading an effort to move a private bill through the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims.

Wu, a Hillsdale Democrat who represents Oregon's 1st Congressional District, is working to pass H.R. 5745, a private bill to postpone deportation of Irma Diaz and her two oldest children, Luis Jr., 21, and Monica, 19.

The bill would allow them to remain temporarily in the United States until 60 days after the final decision is rendered on Luis Diaz Sr.'s political asylum application.

'At this point, we just don't know if the committee will take up the bill or not,' said Jillian Schoene, spokeswoman for Wu. 'Discussions are still ongoing.

'We're still holding out hope for something to happen.'

In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security last week answered one of the Beaverton family's prayers.

Irma, Luis Jr. and Monica did not have to board a plane late Monday night and return to their native Guatemala.

Immigration officials instead allowed the family to remain in the United States until this Friday.

'They have given us an extension to depart to allow additional discussion to go forward in Washington, D.C.,' said Tilman Hasche, an immigration attorney representing the family.

It's the first step toward keeping the family together until Luis Sr.'s political asylum appeal is decided.

Luis Sr.'s political asylum and cancellation of removal claims are both on appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

'The battle is far from over,' Hasche said. 'We're winding our way through the corridor of power at this point.

'I'm hopeful that this latest development is a good sign. This delay will let the process in Congress go forward. Congressman David Wu is doing everything he can to get people on board, but it's a complicated process.'

The reality is that the family will have to board a plane at 11:59 p.m. Friday if the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not provide local immigration officials with new instructions.

'We are standing in front of the abyss,' Hasche said. 'The local officials will follow the directions they have.'

Just waiting

While the close-knit family was able to celebrate Luis Sr.'s birthday Saturday, the uncertainty of the future was never far from their minds.

'We're just waiting for the jackpot - for the news,' Luis Sr. said.

The past few weeks have been stressful for the family as it holds out hope for an act of Congress.

'I'm trying not to stress, but it doesn't work,' Luis Jr. said.

Meanwhile, Monica feels frustrated by the fact that the decision for her future is out of her hands.

'The day is getting closer and we need to do something,' Monica said.

The idea of packing and preparing for the possibility that they will be forced to return to the country their family fled in fear more than 15 years ago hangs over both Luis Jr. and Monica, who have very few memories of their early childhood in Guatemala.

The stress also weighs heavily on their mother Irma.

'I'm sad, very sad,' Irma said. 'It feels like I'm falling in a well.

'The day is too close. I still have a lot of hope that something will happen, but all we can really do is wait.'

Irma said the stress has caused her to lose her appetite and made it difficult for her to sleep, especially when she thinks about leaving her husband and youngest daughter Jennifer, who was born in Portland, behind.

'My family is here,' Irma said. 'All of our memories are here.

'I have a house. I have work. I have my husband and all my kids. I don't have anything over there. I'm worried too because Guatemala has a lot of violent gang problems.'

Her children, faith and the overwhelming support of people in the community keep her strong, Irma said.

'I am very surprised by all of the support from everybody,' Luis Sr. said. 'Every day we get calls.'

'Everybody worries about us,' his son Luis Jr. added. 'They call to ask what is happening, and we don't have the answers.

'If something happens, we want to thank everyone for everything they have done to help us. People have been making phone calls and writing letters. We appreciate all they have done.'

Fluid situation

The Diaz family's plight was brought to Wu's attention by a flurry of calls from concerned neighbors, friends and former teachers as well as a formal request by the family's immigration attorneys Tilman Hasche and Sherilyn Waxler of Parker, Bush and Lane.

Petitions and letters from residents of Beaverton's Heritage Village Manufactured Home Community, members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Aloha and the staff of Elmonica Elementary School urged Wu to take action to keep the family together in the United States.

Letters of support and calls to Wu's office praised the family's contributions to the community in the 15 years it took immigration officials to review and rule on Luis Sr.'s application for political asylum and lawful permanent residency.

Wu hoped to meet last week with the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, but scheduling conflicts pushed the subcommittee meetings to this week.

Committee staff members said Wednesday that the bill was not on the subcommittee's schedule for consideration.

'The situation is just so fluid that I hesitate to say anything more,' Jillian Schoene said.