Call it saved by the bill.
Less than a week before Emilio Maya was to be deported, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed last week to delay proceedings for another year to allow a private bill granting permanent residence submitted by U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey to work its way through Congress.
“We didn’t have a plan B,” said a relieved Maya. “It was like playing roulette and betting on a number, not black or red.”
The bill was first introduced last year and had the same result: a year-long extension by ICE. It never made it out of committee.
Maya and his sister Analia came to Saugerties from Argentina over 10 years ago, remaining after their visas expired to work and start a business. After working as translators for the village police, in 2005 they were offered permanent residency in exchange for performing undercover work in the immigrant community for ICE. As Edwin and Ana Martinez, they aided law enforcement by providing information about drugs, prostitution and false working papers. After five years of this work, in 2009 agents began demanding information on guns and terrorists. When Emilio refused, citing the inherent danger and his lack of contacts, he was surprised at home on Nov. 17 of that year by armed ICE agents and whisked away to a Pennsylvania holding facility where he languished for 15 days without an explanation of the charges he faced.
In a Feb. 2 release announcing the stay, Hinchey said the federal agency broke its promise.
“I’m pleased that ICE has recognized that this case deserves special attention,” said Hinchey. “Emilio Maya is a small business owner who risked his life by going undercover to help stop illegal drug and gang activity that threatens our community. He deserves legal status as he was promised – not deportation. This one year stay is a step in the right direction, but I’m hopeful that a more permanent agreement will be reached.”
Though Emilio will continue to fight his case in court, his immigration case is weak because he entered the country on a visa waiver program that allows immigrants to bypass paperwork but doesn’t allow for deportation cases to be challenged. His best chance will be the passage of Hinchey’s bill.
Maya had special thanks for the congressman. “He worked very hard for us to make this happen,” he said. “For me, today is new year’s day.”
Analia Maya Chrisjohn, Emilio’s sister and partner in the cafe, also faces deportation. But she recently married Saugerties resident Tyrone Chrisjohn and if ICE decides the marriage his legitimate, she will be able to stay. She said a Dec. 3 interview saw her separated from her husband and questioned by officials, presumably to see if their stories matched. Another interview is scheduled for March.
Show of support
The mood was quite different two days before, when supporters threw a party for Emilio at the café in the heart of the village. Feelings of sorrow mingled with indignation, and many of the 150 people who attended thought it would be the last time they’d see the 35-year-old café owner.
“Other countries are looking for people like Emilio, young, ambitious, raising families and contributing to the community,” said Judith Simon. “Deporting him is an injustice and an absurdity.”
Emilio’s wife Kseniya, herself an immigrant from Belarus on a student visa, couldn’t bring herself to make arrangements.
“At this point, we’re waiting and praying,” she said. “I know I have to plan our departure, but I can’t think about it. I still keep hoping.”
Antonio Flores-Lobos said the party was “very successful for the Mayas, but I wish there were more Hispanic people supporting them. I don’t think they understand the real story; otherwise they would be here supporting them.”
The Mayas’ work has alienated many Hispanic people in the community, who see the brother and sister as spies.
“They (the Mayas) are real Americans,” said Ildefonso Apelanz, who said he was more or less drafted to act as master of ceremonies for the evening. “They worked, contributed to the society and even risked their lives to help law enforcement. What else does it take to be an American?”
Apelanz said he speaks not just for the Mayas, but for the many immigrants who entered the country illegally, worked hard, paid their taxes, and should be entitled to stay in the United States because of their efforts.
“This is great news,” said former county Legislator Gary Bischoff. “It is obvious that the community rallied around Emilio and his sister.”
The community support, including some 50 letters sent to ICE director John Morton, may have played a role in the ICE’s decision to allow the one-year stay, especially one from state Sen. John Bonacic, said Bischoff.