For four years, Victor Chavez and his wife, Maty Carrillo, have operated a tire sales and auto repair shop in Jupiter, just down the street from the two-bedroom home they rent.
Their Tikal Tires shop has been the quintessential mom and pop operation. Both natives of Guatemala, they wore dark blue work uniforms with a square name patch. Both got their hands dirty in the work, happily so, seeing it as the surest way to secure a bright future for their son, Jimmy Chavez, an American-born middle schooler who would surprise no one in his family if one day he succeeds in his goal of becoming a biotechnical engineer.
Victor Chavez has sponsored local youth athletic teams. He and his wife are both active in their local church.
Their lives were turned upside down in March, when Carrillo, 41, attempted to have her annual work permit renewed, something she had done routinely during the last three years of the Obama administration.
Instead of getting that renewal, however, she was fitted with an ankle brace in lieu of detention and is being processed for deportation, possibly as soon as September. ICE said she was ordered out of the country in 2006.
Meanwhile, her husband, who had accompanied his wife on her trip to have her work permit renewed, was taken to a detention center in Broward County, where he is being processed for a 1996 order of deportation issued to him. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in an email to The Palm Beach Post that Chavez, 39, also was ordered out of the country in 2006, when the agency said he used false identification “under the name Israel Gonzalez.”
Chavez’s case is “currently under review by the Executive Office for Immigration Review and ICE will wait for the court’s final order before any future actions,” the federal agency said.
As Jimmy Chavez’s parents await their fate, so must he await his. By year’s end, the 13-year-old could go from suburban American teenager with two supportive parents to, possibly, leaving the only home he’s known to join his deported parents in Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Like Francisco Javier Gonzalez, the Mexican-born manager of the Pizza Al Fresco restaurant on Palm Beach whose case was recently detailed by The Post, Chavez and Carrillo wouldn’t seem to have had much to fear from immigration officials — under the rules of the last administration. Neither has a criminal record in Florida, according to a search conducted by The Post.
But staying on the right side of the law once in the United States no longer offers the same protection that an undocumented resident won’t be kicked out of the country. Immigration attorneys say ICE has taken a much more aggressive deportation push since Donald Trump became president.
From the Trump administration’s perspective, focusing on deporting undocumented residents who later break the law misses the point. Their entry into the United States without documentation is, itself, a crime.
“ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the agency told The Post. “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
Maty Carrillo remembers the first day she spent on American soil in October 2002 after traveling from Guatemala, through Mexico and on up to Arizona. She isn’t likely to forget it.
Speaking through a translator at her shop in Jupiter, she said she stopped at a hotel in Casa Grande, Ariz., used frequently by undocumented travelers. A man — Carrillo said he was Mexican-American and spoke English — tried to sexually assault her.
Carrillo, the youngest of 12 children born in Suchitepequez in southwestern Guatemala, fought the man off. Older brothers had taught her how to defend herself, and she put their teachings to use.
Having entered the country illegally, she did not report the attempted rape. She told the translator why.
“She knew that if she reported this to the police that she would be deported,” the translator said.
“Welcome,” Carrillo said in English, a wry smile coming to her lips.
"She knew that if she reported this to the police that she would be deported."
The journey, the risks, it would have to be worth it, Carrillo said. Her family lived in a rural area where work was scarce.
Dropping out of school in the sixth grade, she worked to help support her mother. She got some training as a hair stylist. But there wasn’t enough money, wasn’t enough food, and Carrillo decided, at age 26, to leave for something better.
Eight years before, a teenager from another part of Guatemala decided he, too, needed to head north.
Food, the prospect of a better life, those were factors in the decision, said Hector Diaz, an immigration attorney representing Victor Chavez.
But Chavez’s quest wasn’t simply about pursuing something better. He left, Diaz said, to stay alive.
Bloody violence from Guatemala’s long-running civil war still spilled into the country’s rural areas, deepening the misery of poor people trying to scratch out a living.
Years before, when Chavez was a toddler, that violence reached into Chavez’s home, his son said. Soldiers burst into the home, killed Chavez’s father and began wiping out male villagers.
Chavez, spared as a child, knew the threat of execution still loomed as adulthood approached. Chavez left his family, alone, and made the trek north, through Mexico and into the United States, his son explained.
He found work in Immokalee picking produce. Then it was on to northern Ohio, where he worked in a poultry plant.
Diaz said he’s not certain how it came about, but records indicate U.S. immigration authorities issued an order for Chavez to appear, typically a precursor to an order of deportation. But Chavez, who spoke a Mayan dialect and no English when he left Guatemala, may have been given an court order he did not understand, the lawyer said.
“He didn’t know he had to appear,” Diaz said.
If Chavez had appeared and made a case for asylum, he might have been put on a path to legal residency, given the violence and mayhem in Guatemala at that time, Diaz said.
But Chavez left northern Ohio, joining work crews in other states. Back in Ohio, in his absence, Chavez was ordered out of the country.
How they met
With her son translating — and occasionally offering up a teenager’s embarrassed eye roll — Carrillo recalled how it was that her path crossed with that of the man she would marry.
Separately, they had lived in different places in their years in the U.S.: Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island and, finally, Massachusetts.
A man at church, Benjamin Chavez, invited Carrillo to a cookout. He had come from Guatemala, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Victor, who had sent money back from the various jobs he held in the U.S.
Carrillo could hear the admiration Benjamin Chavez had for his older sibling.
“He always told her how he worked hard and provided,” Jimmy Chavez said, repeating a story he had heard before.
Carrillo went to the cookout. She was cooking alongside other women when she decided to approach Victor Chavez.
“She told him she had a degree in hair styling from Guatemala,” Jimmy Chavez said. “She offered to cut his hair. He said he already had a stylist, but he would come by. He came by.”
Carrillo chimed in: “‘I’ve been 14 years cutting his hair.”
Both serious, both past the casual dating stage of their lives, Carrillo and Victor Chavez dated and eventually moved in together.
Carrillo, who had suffered from gynecological problems, had been told by a doctor in Guatemala that she could not have children. She told Victor, knowing he might decide to end the relationship.
“He said, ‘God is good. We wait. We will see,’” Carrillo said as her son translated.
When Carrillo went to the doctor to be treated for a lingering fever, the nurse examined her, huddled with doctors and came back with congratulations.
Carrillo was already six weeks pregnant, news she remembered with a big smile and rub of her son’s head.
The baby, born in 2003, did not take well to the cold New England winter, and Carrillo and Victor Chavez decided to move south, settling in Jupiter.
In 2009, the couple married in Jupiter, which they had taken to as a calm, safe place where people walked and biked.
After holding a series of jobs and saving money, the couple opened a tire sales and auto repair shop in 2013.
The next year, Jimmy Chavez said his parents made a big decision.
“They thought of me and my studies,” Jimmy said. “They needed to be legal.”
Both applied for and were granted work permits in 2014. Their orders of deportation were stayed for one year.
Each year, when it was time to have those work permits renewed, Victor Chavez would pull his son aside and give him instructions he hoped he’d never have to follow.
“My dad had told me that, if it took more than one or two hours, to call my aunt and uncle in Providence (Rhode Island) and to tell them to call the lawyer. And one of them was to get a ticket and come take care of the business. That’s what he always said.”
Three years of renewals came and went — including the permit Victor Chavez had renewed in December — but Jimmy never had to put his father’s words into practice.
Victor Chavez didn’t have to accompany his wife to her ICE meeting in Miramar, but he didn’t want her to go alone.
Not long after arriving, Jimmy said, his parents were placed in separate rooms. He was ordered to leave.
“They just said, ‘Leave,’ like I was supposed to walk home or something,” Jimmy said.
He returned to the family car and waited. One hour went by. Two. Then Jimmy remembered what his father hold told him two weeks before, what he always told him when it was time to get the work permits renewed.
It wasn’t clear at that point if either of his parents would be released. He wondered how he’d get back to them, how he’d get home.
"She didn't even speak at that point. She was just speechless."
Jimmy dialed his uncle and aunt.
“They told me not to worry, to call someone you trust and know,” Jimmy said.
When he ended the call, Carrillo came out. She was alone and crying.
“She didn’t even speak at that point,” Jimmy recalled. “She was just speechless.”
An hour later, Victor Chavez was allowed to speak to his son.
“He told me to take care of the business, listen to your mom,” Jimmy said.
Victor Chavez’s attorney said it will be an uphill climb to get his client released to his family.
What message sent?
Immigration laws are now being enforced to the maximum extent possible in many cases, Diaz and other immigration lawyers said. If an immigrant who entered the country illegally has been ordered out of the country and comes in contact with ICE, there’s a good chance that old deportation order will be enforced, the lawyers said.
Diaz said he’s trying to get Victor Chavez’s case, the old one that ended with the 1996 order of deportation, reopened. That battle is complicated, he said, by the fact that his client, then a teenager, did not appear when ordered and did not make a case at that time.
Others can note their long, law-abiding tenure in the U.S. in making their case, but, for Victor Chavez, the “clock” on his time in this country essentially stopped with the 1996 deportation order, Diaz said.
None of the years that followed — the work, the business, the community involvement — none of it matters in strict legal terms, Diaz said.
A petition started on Victor Chavez’s behalf urges people to call ICE, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, the Palm City Republican who represents Jupiter in Congress.
A spokesman for Mast said privacy rules prevent the congressman from attempting to intervene unless he has authorization from Victor Chavez’s family. No one from the family has contacted Mast’s office, the spokesman said.
At the Jupiter tire sales and auto repair shop, Carrillo is carrying on.
Frequently, the phone will ring and she’ll listen, nodding. Then, she’ll say: “No, he’s not here.”
One long-time customer, Donna Coleman, recently brought her car to the shop. She, too, asked for Victor Chavez.
Carrillo quietly handed her a flier describing his detention.
“What?” Coleman asked. “This is horrible.”
Unaware a reporter was nearby, Coleman vented.
“I’ve been coming here for years,” she said. “He tries to provide for his family. It’s very sad. He shouldn’t be down there. He’s not a criminal. The people who aren’t following the system, they’re not getting picked up. The people who are following the system, they’re getting picked up. If he’s trying to do the right thing, what message does that send?”
Staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.