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Mixologist JP Caceres may be forced to return to his native Bolivia on Friday, following his release in January after a month in an immigration detention center and a campaign by friends that raised more than $20,000 to help him fight to stay in the country.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement informed Caceres upon his release from the immigration detention center in Farmville, Va., that he needed to purchase an airline ticket to leave the country. Caceres was initially supposed to leave the country by Feb. 14, but because of the snowstorm, ICE pushed back the departure date until Feb. 21. Meanwhile, Caceres’ attorney Andres Benach has filed a stay of removal that could allow Caceres to remain in the country for at least another year. ICE has not yet reached a decision on whether it will grant that stay of removal, but it could happen up until the last minute, Benach says.

If Caceres is allowed to stay in the U.S., he still faces a trial in April on charges of simple assault, threats to do bodily harm, and possession of a prohibited weapon, after allegedly threatening a cab driver with an ice pick. Depending on the outcome, that case could further complicate his ability to stay in the U.S.

And if Caceres is not granted that stay of removal in the coming days, he will take himself to the airport on Friday, where he’ll report to an ICE officer who will verify his departure. But Benach says he thinks Caceres still has a good chance of getting to stay, especially given how ICE has treated his case so far. For example, ICE released Caceres from the detention center in January even though it didn’t have to, and “they delayed his departure, even though, in theory, he certainly could have flown out on Friday afternoon,” Benach says. 

If, however, Caceres is deported, he plans to fight to come back. Having been in the U.S. illegally for more than a year, Caceres would be banned from returning here for 10 years, Benach says. However, he could apply for a “waiver of inadmissibility” that would allow him to return sooner, at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. Caceres could seek that waiver in conjunction with a visa at the U.S. embassy in La Paz, Bolivia.

Benach says that the U.S. will not give Caceres a tourist visa or a student visa; instead, he would need something called an O visa, “which is available to people of extraordinary ability… somebody who’s reached the top of their field,” Benach says. “Certainly JP’s success and awards and accolades and stature in the field of mixology would justify such a visa.” (The bartender has created cocktails for restaurants such as Del Campo and MXDC and served as president of the D.C. chapter of the U.S. Bartenders Guild.)

Still, Benach says proving that Caceres deserves an O visa could be a cumbersome process that involves gathering articles, awards, and letters from supporters. “That takes time, and it’s harder to do if the applicant is in Bolivia,” Benach says.

Benach says one of Caceres’ greatest assets will be his ties to the community. The attorney is also making the case in his application for the stay of removal that Caceres should have gotten his green card years ago, but didn’t because of a bureaucratic backlog.

Caceres married a U.S. citizen in 2003, after which point he filed for a green card. Benach explains that process actually requires two separate applications: one filed by his wife that verifies their marriage and another for the green card itself filed by Caceres. The first one was approved in 2005 after immigration officials interviewed the couple. The second was delayed while ICE completed its background check. Three years later, despite regular check-ins with ICE, Caceres still had no word on his green card application, Benach says. By that time, he and his wife had divorced. When Caceres went to ask immigration officers what would happen next, they asked him for his divorce certificate, which he brought to them. At that point, they denied his green card because he was no longer married to a U.S. citizen and began deportation proceedings.

In the years following the 9/11 attacks when additional background checks were mandated, Benach says there were “a significant number of cases” that were delayed because of an FBI background check backlog. “It wasn’t uncommon for us to see people who would say, ‘My green card application’s been pending for four years. My green card application’s been pending for two years,'” Benach says. “And we would sue the immigration service on those cases in order to compel them to make a decision.” He says the vast majority of those cases were ultimately approved.

“If JP had sat on his rear end and just waited, those background checks would have completed at some point and they would have granted him a green card,” Benach says.

Benach says Caceres will comply with whatever is asked of him next, whether he stays or goes. “He will do whatever the government decides,” Benach says. “But he’s hopeful.”

Photo courtesy JP Caceres