DERBY — The tears flowed freely outside Luis Barrios’ Chestnut Drive home late Wednesday afternoon.
These were tears of happiness and relief after U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told Barrios he had obtained a 30-day stay.
“We’re not running any victory laps yet,” Blumenthal told Hearst Connecticut Media on Wednesday. “It’s only 30 days, but I am going to explore every potential avenue there is to help him.”
Barrios and his wife, Dora, had tears flowing on their cheeks. Their teenage son, Lester, brushed tears away as media crews documented the unexpected reprieve.
“God bless you. God bless everyone,” Barrios softly said after pausing several long seconds to regain his composure. “Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for helping my family.”
For days, it had appeared he would be gone — leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves — possibly losing their home and dropping out of school.
That was because Barrios entered the country illegally 25 years ago. He had come to the U.S. at the urging of his father, who told him to flee Guatemala because of threats against the family. After Barrios arrived here without legal permission, his father and a brother were killed in Guatemala.
The killings have not stopped. Aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews of Barrios’ wife have been shot and killed. She became an orphan at age 7 when her parents were shot to death.
“He faces imminent danger and death if he is returned to Guatemala,” Blumenthal said. “There’s a large lesson to be learned here — one of compassion and immigration reform. This should never have come down to the last minute for a man who has spent 25 years in this country with no criminal record, but a solid working one.”
Aside from entering the country illegally, Barrios’ second offense was failing to appear at a 1998 hearing on his request for asylum. As a result, an immigration judge ordered his immediate deportation. Barrios said he had moved and never received the notice of the deportation order.
He was off the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Custom Enforcement service’s radar until 2011, when he was pulled for driving with a broken taillight, according to Erin O’Neil-Baker, his lawyer. Since then, he has been granted year-to-year extensions that finally ran out in March. That was when he was told to leave the U.S. voluntarily or face being removed by authorities.
Barrios chose voluntarily. He bought a one-way ticket for a Thursday morning flight to Guatemala City, where he has no family, job or home.
Meanwhile, groups including the Working Families Party and Unidad Latina en Accion stepped forward. Petitions were circulated. Demonstrations were held. Blumenthal, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Derby Mayor Anita Dugatto got involved.
“I told Erin if she needs letters, documents, anything, just to call me,” said Dugatto, who visited the Barrios home. “This is such good news. I was prepared for the worst.”
But O’Neil-Baker is a realist. “In 30 days, we could be back on this front lawn.”
Meanwhile, Barrios’ son, Lester who is studying mechatronics at Platt Technical High School in Milford, said he will sleep easier knowing his father is home.
“It’s been hard. I try to focus on school, but I keep thinking about what’s going to happen,” he said.
He and his sister, Jessica, a 19-year-old University of Bridgeport freshman, were prepared to find jobs to help their mother keep their home and their twin sisters, Sindy and Gabriela, in Bradley School.
“The Barrios family can sleep well tonight, knowing their dad will be home, right here in Derby, when they wake up tomorrow morning,” Murphy said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. “My office will keep working hard to make sure he can stay here at home in Connecticut.”
And what does Thursday hold for Barrios?
“I’ll be at work,” said Barrios, who cleans septic tanks for Pease Installation in Newtown. “My boss needs me.”