TAMPA - Hours before an appointment with a bureaucracy seeking to deport her family to a country in turmoil, Jennifer Infante woke up feeling calm.
For months, Infante and her husband William Paredes and their two young children have faced uncertainty as their legal team made a last ditch effort to postpone their return to Venezuela. Their requests for asylum had been denied, and on Tuesday morning they returned to the Immigrations and Custom Enforcement office to find out if their request for a so-called stay of removal would be granted. They asked for permission to remain in the United States for at least six months.
They got a year.
"I woke up feeling calm because we have faith in God," a smiling Infante said in Spanish after the appointment at the ICE office on Cypress Street. "We were certain it was going to be positive."
The family contends that sending them back to Venezuela while President Nicolás Maduro is still in power would amount to a death sentence.
Paredes, 36, said he was working as a K-9 officer for the city of Maracaibo in 2013 when he was part of a big cocaine bust. Shortly after, he started receiving threatening phone calls from members of a collective, or colectivo. The armed groups emerged during the tenure of President Hugo Chávez and control vast territory across Venezuela, financed in some cases by the drug trade.
After he was threatened at gunpoint, Paredes and Infante, 35, came to Tampa with their son Sebastian on a tourist visa in 2014 and applied for asylum. Their application and subsequent appeals were denied. As their case ran its course, the family made a life in Tampa. Paredes works in construction, Infante is a phlebotomist. The couple has since had a second a child, a daughter named Madison who is a U.S. citizen and now 3. Sebastian is 10.
A stay of removal is a temporary humanitarian benefit ICE may grant to undocumented people whose deportation is pending. ICE spokeswoman Tammy Spicer confirmed Tuesday the agency granted the Paredes-Infante family a yearlong stay.
The specific peril the family faces because of Paredes' job history might have played a role, but the humanitarian and political crises that are roiling Venezuela was probably a bigger factor in the decision, said Oxalis Garcia, lead immigration attorney for the Migrants Foundation, who worked on the family's case with fellow attorney Paul Palacios.
"We believe and we theorize that this is because of the situation that the nation of Venezuela is going through at this moment in time," Garcia said.
A mismanaged state-controlled economy has made food and health care unavailable to many. Dissidents have been jailed and tortured. Maduro is resisting calls to step down and has blocked humanitarian aid. President Donald Trump's administration, the same government that considered deporting the Paredes-Infante family, has slapped sanctions on Maduro's government to pressure him to step down.
Paredes, Infante and Sebastian do not have a path to citizenship under current law other than applying when Madison turns 21, so they expect to return to Venezuela at some point. The family and their supporters hope that in the next year, Maduro will be removed from power and conditions in the country will improve.
Meantime, the family hopes the Trump administration will give Venezuelans temporary protective status. The TPS program provides relief from deportation and access to a work permit for foreign nationals unable to safely return to their home country due to natural disasters, armed conflicts or other extraordinary conditions.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is among lawmakers who have signed onto a bill that would grant Venezuelans living in the United States temporary protected status. Oxalis said Rubio was helpful in the Paredes-Infante family's case along with Casa Venezuela Tampa Bay.
"We're very emotional, very happy, very thankful," Paredes said in Spanish as he held Madison in his arms.
The family said they plan to make the most of the reprieve.
"We're going to continue to work, continue to build a future for our children," Infante said.
CENTRO Tampa editor Myriam Warren contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrero. Follow @tmarrerotimes.