At 9:39 a.m. on Jan. 16, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stormed into Poor Richard’s restaurant and arrested Oscar Guerrero-Olivares, a cook and cashier who had worked there for the past nine months.
A Dreamer married to an American citizen, Oscar was taken to a privately run ICE detention facility in Aurora. It was the latest in a long and tragic saga that began in Mexico, a country Oscar doesn’t remember, in the early 1990s. Oscar’s mother and father had six children, Oscar being the second to last, with a large age gap between him and his older siblings.
Victor Guerrero-Olivares, who spoke to the Independent by phone from Texas, is exactly one year younger than Oscar, and both were still in diapers when their parents immigrated to Hudson, Texas, a town that still has fewer than 5,000 people.
The family lived together for several years, but when the boys were in grade school, their parents separated. Victor and Oscar were raised by their dad.
Hudson was a mostly white, conservative town. But Victor says he and Oscar fit in just fine. They went to school and played soccer. When Oscar was around 15 or 16, he and Victor began working after school at a Mexican restaurant. That was when they met Zeferino “Junior” Castro.
Junior and Oscar were inseparable. They had the same haircuts and wore the same clothes. People mistook them for brothers. But there was one difference between the boys: Junior was an American citizen. Oscar wasn’t.
“We didn’t really understand that we were undocumented,” Victor says. “We just grew up like everyone else.”
In fact, he says, it wasn’t until he wanted to take a driver’s ed class in high school, and asked his father for his Social Security number, that he found out.
Not long after that, Oscar and Victor’s father died, and their eldest brother took them in. Despite the dual shocks, the boys did well. Both Victor and Oscar were in college as of 2017, Victor says. Victor wants to be a nurse, Oscar a graphic designer. Victor is engaged to an American citizen, Oscar is married to one. Junior also fell in love and had a little boy.
Oscar and Junior never stopped being best friends. In November 2017, Oscar’s defense attorney Dan Kay says, when Oscar was 28 and Junior, 27, they decided to drive to Colorado. Oscar had always wanted to see the mountains.
After the long drive, the two checked into their lodging and headed to a bar for drinks. By the early morning hours of Nov. 24, 2017, Oscar was exhausted. Driving back to their lodging, he got lost on unfamiliar roads, fell asleep and crashed his car into a light post along Interstate 25 near Fountain.
Junior wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the car. He died in Oscar’s arms.
An affidavit from a state patrol officer notes that Oscar appeared intoxicated and “emotionally upset” at the accident scene and that his blood alcohol was tested. Kay says Oscar was over the legal limit of .08 BAC, saying he tested at .127 BAC.
Because of that, Oscar was facing criminal charges — and deportation since his status as a Dreamer was no longer guaranteed.
Victor says that when he and Oscar first heard about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) they were both a little scared to sign up.
“It’s definitely something that a lot of people, myself included, we went toward it with caution, but it really was our only option,” he says. “We were stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Oscar’s immigration attorney, Alexander McShiras, of Joseph Law Firm in Denver, explains that DACA acted as a shield for Oscar, allowing him to stay in the U.S. and work legally because his deportation was “deferred.” But that was when Oscar had no criminal record, McShiras notes. The government can revoke DACA protections for felons.
Following the accident, Kay says Oscar was booked into El Paso County Criminal Justice Center for months without bail on an “ICE hold” until an El Paso County District Court judge ruled those holds unlawful in March 2018.
Oscar eventually pleaded to a fourth-degree felony, vehicular homicide – reckless driving. A testament to Junior and Oscar’s closeness: Junior’s family didn’t blame Oscar for the tragedy.
“Junior’s family was basically Oscar’s extended family,” Victor says.
And like families do, they traveled to Colorado to testify at his sentencing hearing on Jan. 10, pleading with Fourth Judicial District Judge Thomas Kelly Kane not to send Oscar to prison. The judge took mercy on Oscar and sentenced him to six years of probation and 600 hours of community service.
Oscar didn’t have to go to prison, which meant he wouldn’t be reported to ICE. Theoretically, it was a good place to be. Oscar’s wife was graduating from college soon, and the couple planned to make a home in Colorado. Oscar was planning to apply for a green card under a program for family members of U.S. citizens.
It’s not known how ICE found out where Oscar was working, and the agency’s entire public affairs team is forbidden from working during the partial government shutdown, so there’s no one to ask.
But just a few days after that sentencing hearing, ICE came looking for Oscar at a local pizza joint owned by Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman and his wife Patricia Seator.
Skorman says he was shocked to hear of what happened to Oscar, whom he calls a “model employee” and “an honest, helpful, sweet person.”
“He’s one of the best employees we’ve had here,” he says. “He’s so well liked. People were in shock … when ICE came and it’s just been a tough one emotionally for our staff.”
McShiras is working to bond Oscar out, but as of the morning of Jan. 18, Oscar’s detention paperwork wasn’t in order. He suspects that if he can successfully bond Oscar, it could take weeks.
And then there’s the longterm issues. While Oscar’s DACA has not been rescinded (or there was no required documentation of such a move on Jan. 18), it likely will be. Oscar’s wife plans to petition to get him a green card and there’s a chance he could stay in the U.S. But Oscar would have to prove that his wife would suffer an extreme and rare hardship should he be deported — it can be a tough argument to win. Otherwise, Oscar could voluntarily deport to Mexico, a country where he knows no one, and spend perhaps a year and a half or two years wading through the process to get a green card and be readmitted — assuming he’s approved.
“If you leave, you can get stuck outside for a variety of reasons,” McShiras says.
In the meantime, the shutdown adds to a backlog of immigration cases that TRAC (a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center out of Syracuse University) recently estimated had exceeded 1 million. Oscar waits in a detention center that Westword recently reported has been accused of abuses. And Oscar’s network, including Junior’s friends and family, are running short on funds to support his legal fight.
“There’s no magic, like we have an extra $1,000 every week,” Victor says.
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