The ongoing immigration debate is hitting home for one East County family who legally immigrated to the United States 18 years ago to escape death threats from Colombian drug cartels.
On Friday their father was arrested and is facing final deportation despite private legislation introduced to Congress by former Congressman Duncan L. Hunter.
“My family is completely separated for our safety,” said 18-year-old Camilo Dunoyer.
The separation was sparked after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Camilo's father, Roberto, Friday for what they call "administrative immigration violations."
It happened as the husband and father got to work at an East County business. Fearing they could be next, the rest of the Dunoyers are taking precautions.
“We’ve been using phones less and living as if fugitives, as if we’re on the run or criminals.
An ICE spokesperson said Roberto Dunoyer was taken into ICE custody August 16 following his arrest by the San Diego ICE Fugitive Operations Unit and is pending removal to Colombia.
The Dunoyers have a home in Jamul. They've also built a business and pay taxes.
Their story now part of a YouTube documentary called "The Deported."
The family of four came to the U.S. from Colombia on a visa when Camilo was 11-months-old because of death threats from Colombian cartels.
Once in the United States, the family’s request for asylum was denied. Still, the family found unlikely allies in immigration hardliners like former Representative Duncan L Hunter and his son, Duncan D. Hunter, who succeeded him.
The East County Republicans introduced a private bill that helped protect the family -- it never passed through Congress -- but that protection is now gone under the Trump Administration's zero-tolerance policy.
“When the private bill was taken from us DACA (Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals) had already been closed,” said Camilo. “So my brother and I couldn’t apply.”
Though the family left Colombia, Camilo showed NBC 7 letters sent from their homeland, one from as recently as December, containing death threats.
Camilo graduated as prom king from Valhalla High School and is now in college. He's hoping to shed light on the immigration debate so his family and others can come out of the shadows.
“I want people to understand what's happening in the country and to think before voting on these policies,” he said.
Roberto Dunoyer was given a final deportation order in 2003, according to his attorney, but the family continued fighting legally through the courts.
"According to ICE records, Dunoyer was granted voluntary departure by the U.S. Immigration Judge (IJ) on May 8, 2013. He failed to comply with the requirements of the voluntary departure ordered by the IJ, and therefore under law, his voluntary departure was converted to a final order of removal. Mr. Dunoyer exhausted all avenues of the judicial review process with the Board of Immigration Appeals and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. He failed to report to his required appointment scheduled at the San Diego ICE office on August 13. Due to his failure to appear, his case was referred to the ICE Fugitive Operations Unit," an ICE spokesperson said.
Representative Duncan D. Hunter’s office says they’re exhausting every effort to help keep the family here.