Joel was born in the 1960s into a very poor family in Huehuetenango, a city in the mountain highlands of western Guatemala.
Like many of his countrymen, Joel fled Guatemala in 1992 when a brutal civil war erupted and sent violence rippling across the nation. In two decades of war, more than 200,000 people, mostly of Mayan heritage, were killed, and tens of thousands fled Guatemala for safety.
Joel made the difficult decision to leave his family behind and seek protection in the United States during the civil war. After he entered the United States, he filed for asylum, as many Guatemalans did during that time. He married his wife, Josepha, who was also from Guatemala, and included her on his application for asylum.
However, both of their claims were denied, as were most of the Guatemalan applications for asylum at the time, and the couple were placed into removal proceedings. Joel and Josepha came to Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska for help.
Joel and Josepha had five children who were citizens of the United States. They were very involved in their children’s lives and in the lives of the parishioners at the church where Joel was a pastor. Both parents were terrified about what would happen to their daughters if they were forced to relocate to Guatemala, and of the hardships they would face if they were deported.
Complicating matters, Joel had taken a four-month trip outside of the United States in 2001 to visit his family, which under current U.S. immigration law made it even more complicated for Josepha and him to launch a clear defense against deportation.
The legal staff at Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska appealed to U.S. Immigration for humanitarian reasons to use their discretion on behalf of Joel and Josepha. Because of Justice For Our Neighbors’ work, Immigration agreed to administratively close their cases, and the couple is no longer in immediate danger of deportation.