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Border & Immigration

Once Protected Family Faces Possible Deportation Under Trump Immigration Crackdown

The Dunoyer family of Jamul sits in their living room, August 7, 2018.
Matthew Bowler
The Dunoyer family of Jamul sits in their living room, August 7, 2018.

UPDATE: 2:30 p.m., Aug 13, 2018

Congressman Duncan Hunter is speaking out on behalf of a family that faces deportation from East County. The Dunoyer family, from Colombia, had been living in Jamul for 17 years with the help of private immigration legislation, a rare tool allowing people to stay in the U.S.

But changes to immigration policy under the Trump administration mean these types of private immigration bills have less power.

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Congressman Hunter’s office said he personally wrote to Homeland Security last week to bring awareness to the family’s case after years of sponsoring them with bills that never passed.

"The Congressman continues to urge DHS to use their discretion in this matter and recognize the value this family has in the community and the dangers they face if forced to return (to Colombia)," said spokesman Michael Harrison.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a branch of DHS, canceled a meeting with the family that was supposed to take place last Thursday. An immigration official had told the family they would likely be informed at that meeting of pending deportation.

"We do not know what bearing this has on the overall situation," Harrison said.

Original Story

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Twenty-year-old Pablo Dunoyer took to Twitter this week to tell the world he would die if he is deported.

His Jamul-based family fled Colombia and sought asylum in the U.S. in 2002 when he was three, because he said they were receiving death threats from guerrillas.

The aspiring construction engineer read one of those letters from the National Liberation Army aloud:

"We will begin to crush and dismember one-by-one the members of your family," he translated.

His family is one of hundreds whose ability to stay in the U.S. is at risk after the Trump administration revoked certain protections for people with pending private immigration legislation.

For decades, members of Congress have introduced private bills to let specific individuals or families stay in the U.S. But the Trump administration filed an executive order in January 2017, stating that the government would no longer "exempt classes or categories of removable aliens for potential enforcement."

That spring, then acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee substantially scaling back the power of private immigration bills to comply with the order.

After 17 years in the U.S., the Dunoyer family was told they will likely be deported to Colombia.

VIDEO: Asylum-Seeking Family Facing Deportation

Dunoyer insisted on Twitter: "My family's American, I don't care what a paper says, I don't care what you think, my family is American, I am an American, and I should be given the same rights that you have ... why do I deserve to be treated like a sub-human?"

His 17-year-old brother Camilo was prom king at his high school this year. He listens to rap and R&B, and speaks Spanish with an accent.

Letter On Changes To U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Policy
Letter On Changes To U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Policy
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He has no memories of life back in Colombia; the family moved when he was less than a year old.

Their dad, Roberto, worked as a finance minister for a rural government program. He said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which recently reached a historic peace agreement with the Colombian government, tried to extort him at the time. When he refused to comply, members of the gang began to threaten his family.

After they fled to the U.S., the threats continued, said the Dunoyer family, because some of the FARC members joined the National Liberation Army and took charge of old accounts.

"The National Liberation Army needs the collaboration of all Colombians to combat the repressive government we currently have," reads the 2016 letter in Spanish. "We asked you cordially for a collaboration to continue our fair and revolutionary fight for the good of all Colombians, but you ignored us ..." the formal tone of the letter descends into swear words and all caps.

Nevertheless, the family’s asylum case was denied.

But two Republican Congressmen came to the rescue.

Former Congressman Duncan Hunter first filed private legislation on the family’s behalf in 2008, which protected them from deportation.

Then his son, Congressman Duncan Hunter, reintroduced the bill five times, from 2009 to 2017.

But during the family's annual check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they were told the bill no longer protected them from deportation.

The family has an application with the Board of Immigration Appeals. Neither the Department of Justice nor Immigration and Customs Enforcement responded to requests for comment.

The family has more than 5,000 signatures of support on an online petition.

Once Protected Family Faces Possible Deportation Under Trump Immigration Crackdown
A family in East County is asking for help after the Trump administration revoked certain protections for people with pending private immigration bills in Congress.

Corrected: October 2, 2023 at 11:45 PM PDT
Editor's Note: In the video, the story incorrectly names Duncan D. Hunter as Duncan L. Hunter.