Perry fam­ily vows to help other im­mi­grants

Re­cent de­por­ta­tion or­deal fu­els re­solve

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Jeff Burlew

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE — Time was run­ning out for Rudy Blanco. His house was on the mar­ket. His wife, Shelly, had given power of at­tor­ney to their chil­dren. The Cuban gov­ern­ment had ar­ranged for him to live in the com­mu­nist coun­try with a half-sis­ter he’d never known.

Af­ter spend­ing nearly three months in the Wakulla County jail, he was locked up again, this time at U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment’s Krome fa­cil­ity in Mi­ami. His de­por­ta­tion was only days away, maybe hours.

“There’s noth­ing else past this but a flight to Cuba — and they’re go­ing to put me there,” he thought to him­self.

Shelly would leave North Florida, too, to be with him. They’d start over again and make the best of it. But their fu­ture was bleak.

“I wasn’t ready to be res­i­dent of Cuba,” she said. “But I would be. We were to­gether.”

He could only pray his Tal­la­has­see lawyers would be suc­cess­ful in last-ditch ef­forts to keep him in Amer­ica. But his pre­vi­ous lawyers had failed him.

Blanco, 44, es­caped Cuba as a lit­tle boy dur­ing the Mariel boat lift in 1980. He later mar­ried Shelly, started a fam­ily and built a small busi­ness and the had a happy life to­gether in her home­town of Perry.

But all of that was slip­ping away over a 1997 drug ar­rest in the Keys. And while Blanco walked away with pro­ba­tion only, the case prompted a fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion judge to or­der him de­ported in 2005 just as he was seek­ing ci­ti­zen­ship.

He was al­lowed to re­main in the U.S. in part be­cause of frosty re­la­tions with Cuba. But that changed af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fol­lowed through on his vow to im­pose strict new im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies. On May 9, af­ter a rou­tine visit to ICE’s of­fice in Tal­la­has­see, he was sent to the Wakulla jail, where he stayed for 83 days.

On Aug. 2, he was loaded into a trans­port van and taken to the ICE of­fice in Tal­la­has­see — not the air­port, where he’d thought he was go­ing. He was told his case had been re­viewed. ICE felt com­fort­able putting him on an an­kle mon­i­tor and re­leas­ing him.

“As soon as I walked out of that ICE of­fice, it was heaven on Earth,” he said.

His wife and son Noah came to pick him up. The Blan­cos took off to the Keys for a soul-cleans­ing few days of boat­ing, snor­kel­ing and splash­ing around in the ocean.

Once back in Perry, life re­turned to nor­mal. For a while, any­way. On Aug. 22, as Blanco and his son were head­ing to a job site, his an­kle mon­i­tor started beep­ing. “Call the of­fice. Call the of­fice,” a mes­sage re­peated. An ICE of­fi­cer told him there was some pa­per­work or some­thing he needed to sign.

Brac­ing for an­other stay in Wakulla, he got even worse news. “They said, ‘Lis­ten, we apol­o­gize you have to go through this. Your name came up. You’re get­ting de­ported. I’m not say­ing you’re leav­ing right now, but it’s within the next three or four days.’

“We were all like, ‘What just hap­pened?’ ”

He winced as he walked into the Craw­fordville jail later that day. He went to Krome the next day. He knew he’d be ship­ping out for Cuba soon, never to re­turn home again.

In Tal­la­has­see, his lawyers Gisela Rodriguez and Alex Mor­ris raced to stop his de­por­ta­tion. Rodriguez worked the im­mi­gra­tion side of his case, ask­ing ICE to de­lay his de­por­ta­tion. Mor­ris sought to have his old con­vic­tion va­cated. But a pre­vi­ous lawyer had al­ready tried that and lost. And a new judge could re­ject the re­quest with­out so much as a hear­ing.

Mor­ris ar­gued Blanco’s pre­vi­ous lawyers gave him bad ad­vice and made a num­ber of ob­vi­ous er­rors, in­clud­ing fail­ing to in­form him that his plea to the drug charge could lead to his ul­ti­mate de­por­ta­tion.

Af­ter a hear­ing Mon­day in Mon­roe Cir­cuit Court, Chief Judge Mark Jones opted to va­cate the con­vic­tion. That same day, ICE agreed to a 30-day stay. Still, Shelly, who’d driven down to the Keys with Hannah for the hear­ing, was ner­vous. The judge hadn’t signed the or­der yet, and the un­ex­pected had hap­pened be­fore.

Fi­nally, on Tues­day, Jones signed the or­der. But Blanco hadn’t got­ten the news yet. That af­ter­noon, a guard called out to him.

“They said, ‘Blanco, pack it up — you’re leav­ing,’ ” he said. “But where am I leav­ing to?”

Shelly and Hannah headed for Mi­ami. Later that night, Blanco walked out of Krome a free man.

“I ran into his Shelly said.

Blanco’s im­mi­gra­tion case isn’t closed yet, though his at­tor­neys hope it soon will be. Last week, the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity told Rodriguez it would not op­pose her mo­tion to have his case re­opened in lower im­mi­gra­tion court. From there, she’ll ask for the case to be closed on con­sti­tu­tional grounds.

“I’m re­al­is­ti­cally hope­ful be­cause his con­vic­tion is gone,” she said.

Blanco sup­ported Trump be­fore the elec­tion, though he’s un­sure who he might vote for if he’s a cit­i­zen by 2020. He and his wife know one thing, though: they’re go­ing to spend their time help­ing oth­ers like him.

“If they can slow down the sys­tem and take their time and see ev­ery case the way they’re sup­posed to be seen — that right there is a goal it­self,” Blanco said. “Be­cause right now, there are so many go­ing be­fore them, there’s no pos­si­ble way they’ve got time to re­view all those cases.” arms,”


Rudy Blanco and his wife Shelly cel­e­brate the news that his im­mi­gra­tion case has been sent to a lower court in his lawyers’ Tal­la­has­see of­fice on Aug. 30.

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