Elkhart man says goodbye to his friends and family before deportation to Colombia
An Elkhart man is facing the unthinkable, but what some call the inevitable.
He's being forced to leave his home of 18 years. He's an illegal immigrant.
Immigrations and Custom Enforcement is sending him back to Colombia.
Armando Paez came to Elkhart in 1999. Since then, he's worked at Antonio's Italian Restaurant.
Tuesday night, the restaurant held a farewell party for him, but for many, it wasn't a party at all, but an indefinite goodbye.
"People stand in line to have him as their server,” said Antonio’s Owner, Paul Cataldo.
People are still standing in line for Armando, but this time to say goodbye. Tuesday was his final night at the restaurant.
Paez overstayed his work visa.
In 2000, he got a DUI. A stain on his record.
After years of back and forth with Immigration that stain cost him. ICE has ordered him to leave the country.
"I don't want to say dad's leaving tomorrow because then that's facing reality for us,” said Paez’s daughter, Maria Paez.
Maria is one of Armando's three children. He and his wife brought them over from Colombia.
They're protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
"I remember going to my parents and asking why, why is this happening and my parents trying to explain the situation that we are on the path to citizenship but it's harder than it is,” she said.
"We never thought it would happen,” said Cataldo. “We thought that the legal system would be fair and it would all work out and they would see the Armando that we see."
Paez says saying goodbye to the home he's known for years is the hard part.
"It's a safe place for my kids, for my wife, this town has showed me how the good people we can find in this big, big country,” he said.
Teary eyes and long hugs show it's not just hard for him.
"We are still praying that a miracle is going to happen for us....that somebody is going to make a phone call and dad's going to stay,” Maria said.
Armando's wife is under a stay of deportation, that's an order directing the Department of Homeland Security not to remove an immigrant from the United States
She is set to meet with immigration officials in September.
Armando will leave South Bend Wednesday. He flies to Atlanta and then to Bogota.
His family isn't sure the next time they will see him. If they leave the country, they may not be allowed back in.