A 59-year-old aviation worker who has lived in Greensboro for two decades since overstaying a visa is suddenly ordered to leave the country after reporting to ICE in March.
Nestor Marchi, a 59-year-old aviation worker in Greensboro, likely doesn’t fit anyone’s idea of the “bad hombres” then-candidate Donald Trump spoke of during the third presidential debate last October, when he said, “One of my first acts will be to get all of the drug lords, all of the bad ones — we have some bad, bad people in this country that have to go out.”
An aviation worker in his native Brazil since the age of 17, Marchi came with his wife to Miami in 1994 in the hopes of giving their son a better life, and overstayed a 6-month visa. The aviation industry in southeast Florida was encountering trouble, and in 1996 Marchi leapt at an opportunity to take a job at Timco, a company in Greensboro that was expanding and paying good wages. Acquired by Haeco in 2014, Timco specialized in maintenance, repair and overhaul of commercial aircraft.
Marchi was apprehended in a 2004 immigration raid, which put him out of work for a couple years and plunged him into health troubles. But he struck a deal with the US Department of Homeland Security to assist the government in investigations into fraud, waste and abuse in the aviation industry in exchange for a work permit. He dutifully showed up for regular check-ins at the Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in Charlotte, at first every 30 days and eventually once a year. Aside from overstaying his visa in 1994, Marchi has maintained a nearly spotless record. A check of North Carolina criminal offenses reveals only two traffic violations — a conviction for an expired tag in Guilford County in 2004 and speeding ticket in Rowan County the following year.
Marchi, who suffers from congestive heart failure and diabetes, continued to work to support his family until March 10 when he reported to ICE for his annual check-in. Instead of renewing his work permit, the agency ordered Marchi to come back on May 31 with proof that he’d purchased an airline ticket to Brazil and to leave the country by June 15.
President Trump’s immigration policy, outlined in a Jan. 25 executive order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” expanded enforcement priorities to include a wide range of undocumented immigrants, including people even suspected of criminal activity and people who “have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency.” By not making particular undocumented people an enforcement priority, the executive order essentially made everyone a priority.
Despite the policy change, ICE has continued to tout its role in deporting criminal aliens. The agency publicized a 5-day enforcement action in southeast Texas last month resulting in 95 arrests involving undocumented people with convictions for homicide, aggravated assault, burglary and drug possession; 13 were for immigration violations. Patrick Contreras, the field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Houston, declared, “Public safety remains a top priority for ICE.”
In contrast, Nestor Marchi’s impending return to Brazil suggests a broadening of the category of people swept up in ICE’s enforcement efforts as the Trump administration attempts to accelerate deportations to meet a loudly proclaimed campaign promise.
“This administration is not going after ‘bad hombres,’” said Jeremy McKinney, a Greensboro immigration lawyer who assisted Marchi in filing a humanitarian appeal. “They’re conducting this quiet and very easy enforcement action taking in non-criminals who voluntarily appear at the immigration office…. The question is one of public policy. We have finite officers and finite planes. This is a matter of priority for the Trump administration. The promise that I heard is that he was going after criminals. Under no one’s definition of criminal would Nestor be included.”
Contemplating his all-but-certain expulsion from the United States at his son’s house on the north side of Greensboro, Nestor Marchi reflected on two decades in the shadows, working hard to support his family but attempting as much as possible to remain invisible.
“You live your whole life afraid immigration’s going to knock on your door,” he said. “Your whole life is looking over your shoulder, living a scared life. It’s very hard because I know I did something wrong — I overstayed my visa. Everything I do is to give something to my family. I want to stay here.”
All the same, he looks at his decision to come to the United States with satisfaction, considering that his son, Andy, is serving the community as a Greensboro firefighter.
Through his earnings, Nestor was able to pay his son’s $1,500 annual tuition at GTCC. Although Andy has lived in Greensboro since he was 7 years old, his family paid the international rate so he could attend community college. Now 30, Andy obtained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, allowing him to join the Greensboro Fire Department, where he serves on the hazardous-materials team.
“That’s why I came to the States,” Nestor Marchi said. “It paid off. I have a son doing something I’m very proud of. I came here not to send money to anywhere, but to give my family a better life.”
After the 2004 immigration raid, Marchi was out of work for about a year and a half. He said he lost everything, including his house and his car, and his health declined. In 2006, he developed congestive heart failure, leading to diabetes, and now relies on a cocktail of medications to maintain his health. If he’s forced to return to Brazil, Marchi said, he would have to wait for eight months just to get an appointment to see a doctor.
“He’s fighting to be alive,” Rose Snead, Marchi’s friend, said. “Every three or four months, he goes to Florida to be treated. If he goes to Brazil, it’s a death sentence.”
As a firefighter, Andy Marchi is often the first person on the scene when someone is experiencing a health emergency.
“I might have to perform CPR,” he said. “I see a lot of people with the same thing as my dad. It might be that someone who’s taking meds runs out and their health deteriorates. I’m happy that the fire department gave me the training to help these people. It stinks that I can help someone who I have no idea who they are, but I can’t do anything for my dad.”
Beyond overstaying his visa, in all other ways Andy Marchi said his father taught him honesty by example. He recalled that when he turned 18 he received offers for sham marriages, which would have put him on track to become a US citizen. Had he done so, he might now be in a position to sponsor his father’s application for citizenship and his father wouldn’t be facing an expulsion order. But he waited to find the woman he truly loved, and they got married five months ago. Andy could potentially sponsor his father in three years, but by then it may be too late.
“Three years is what would be needed for me to become a citizen to help him apply for citizenship,” Andy Marchi said. “We’re just closing the door. He needs help…. It’s not like he doesn’t have a gateway to get legalized. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Despite his past difficulties and dismal prospects of unemployment and unaddressed health needs in Brazil, Nestor Marchi said he’s grateful for his time in the United States. He always paid taxes with a false Social Security number to normalize his status as much as possible, but never was able to draw Social Security or Medicare benefits. Yet in a way he believes he benefited from the system he paid his taxes into.
“It’s unbelievable how good this country is to us,” Marchi said reflecting on the time when his health declined. “Because of the advances of medicine here — I paid for it, but I was able to stay alive.”
Marchi is aware that many people in the United States, particularly those who backed President Trump’s election, feel strongly that the nation’s immigration laws need to be enforced, even if they might applaud his work ethic and sympathize with his health challenges.
“If you have any humanity, [recognize that] it’s case by case,” Marchi said. “I always obey the law and do everything right. I plead with you: Please look at the other side. Some of us can be useful for the nation. Give some of us a chance to stay here.”
Some immigrants in Marchi’s situation might go underground to avoid deportation. That’s not his way.
“I need a miracle,” Marchi said. “I want to do everything right. My son becoming an American citizen, I want to be able to come back to see my grandchildren. If I need to go on June 15, I’ll go on June 15. My whole life I’m trying to be as honest as I can.”
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