Naples man detained by ICE, faces deportation to Guatemala

Posted April 13, 2017, at 7:57 p.m.

A 37-year-old Maine man was being held at Cumberland County Jail on Thursday after federal agents took him into custody in compliance with a federal immigration judge’s deportation order issued in June 2010, officials said Thursday.

Otto Morales-Caballeros, who lives with his wife in Naples, was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents near his home on Wednesday, said Shawn Neudauer, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It wasn’t clear why authorities detained Morales-Caballeros on Wednesday. He pleaded guilty in federal court in 2013 to one count of Employment Identity Fraud, and sentenced to time served, according to court records. But his wife, Sandra Scribner Merlim, told the Portland Press Herald that the couple had been assured by immigration officials that he could remain in the country if he stayed out of legal trouble after he helped Homeland Security in the criminal case against the suppliers of his fake documents.

“He hasn’t been to Guatemala in 20 years and doesn’t have anyone to go back to,” she told the paper.

Per the judge’s order, Morales-Caballeros faces deportation to Guatemala, Neudauer said. Officials at Cumberland County Jail verified that they had Morales-Caballeros in custody but said they had no information regarding his deportation or court dates.

Morey Highbarger, owner of Sea Salt Lobster, a wholesale seafood company where Morales-Caballeros has worked for seven years as a grader, said he was shocked by the news.

Morales-Caballeros was detained a few years ago but got correct paperwork and was allowed to stay in the U.S., Highbarger said.

Ironically, Morales-Caballeros then got Transportation Security Administration clearance to screen cargo that goes directly into aircraft traveling to or from overseas, an arduous process, Highbarger said.

“In order for us to do that we all had to be pretty well vetted,” Highbarger said. “We think the world of Otto. We have enjoyed him and his company and his work for years. It would be a real shame to see him go.”

Neudauer characterized the case as routine.

Morales-Caballeros was the second known person to be arrested by ICE this month. Portlander Abdi Ali was detained on April 6 by three ICE agents while he was at the Cumberland County Courthouse to plead not guilty to a drunken driving charge.

Documents later showed Ali’s deportation was based on a 4-year-old drug possession conviction, for which he has already served jail time. Ali and his family fled war in Somalia in 1996, when he was 7 years old. They came to the U.S. legally as refugees, and Ali became a permanent resident a year later. He said that he hasn’t been to Somalia since and doesn’t know anyone there.

Ali’s arrest was the first apparent Maine case of the Trump administration’s more aggressive immigration enforcement.

Both ICE arrests in Maine were condemned by Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine.

“President Trump’s reckless and inhumane mass deportation agenda is tearing families apart,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

“Many of these people have been in the U.S. for decades and have built families and communities. People in our own communities are so terrified of being torn from the only world they know, they are afraid to go to work, to go to the doctor’s office or even to send their kids to school,” Heiden said.

Heiden encouraged local law enforcement agencies to refuse to join deportation actions. Sue Roche, executive director of the Immigration Legal Advisory Project of Maine, said her agency would try to meet Morales-Caballeros, review his case, advise him on his rights and possibly recommend or supply an attorney for him. Highbarger said he is working with Morales-Caballeros’ wife to seek legal counseling and has offered to pay a portion of his legal fees.

— Additional reporting by Judy Harrison

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