Loudon County father faces deportation following seat belt violation

LENOIR CITY (WATE) – A Loudon County father is facing deportation after a run-in with the law over a seat belt violation.

Estuardo Cardona came to the U.S. illegally, worked for years and even started a family, but while making East Tennessee his home, he had another encounter with officers. The family says they’re doing all they can to stay together and prepare to start over in Guatemala.

The Cardonas have four children. The youngest boy is 9 months old, which can be a distraction during the hardest times.

“I’m scared, a lot,” said Estuardo Cardona’s wife Maria.

She says right now her husband is in a deportation facility in Louisiana.

“He’s my husband, my friend. I miss you a lot, Estuardo. I’m crying every day for Estuardo. I miss you,” she said.

The Cardonas moved from Guatemala to the U.S. 17 years ago. They say on March 17, Estuardo Cardona was stopped by a trooper for not wearing a seat belt. After officers ran his information, they say law enforcement learned about a previous DUI and that he’d purchased a Social Security number.

Estuardo Cardona was arrested and the family believes that’s what led to their limbo with deportation.

“I had to explain to his sons that your dad committed a crime, but that doesn’t make him a criminal. Maybe in the eyes of the law, it does, but not in the eyes of God or his community,” said family friend Kevin Cooney.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says within the Priority Enforcement Program, under the Obama administration, a DUI was considered a removable offense. Guidelines within the current administration note any arrest can begin removal proceedings.

The Cardonas hope Estuardo Cardona is granted a voluntary departure.

“We’ve written letters from our church on his behalf and he’s got a passport and we’ve got funds in his account to pay his own way out of the country,” said Cooney.

The Cooney family, who attends church with the Cardonas, are hoping to raise enough money to buy plane tickets for the four boys and Maria Cardona.

“It’s not judgmental. We understand that laws have been broken and we understand immigration, the big picture immigration problem in our country. But this is a small picture,” added Cooney.

Much is still up in the air and the Cardonas say they’re devastated to leave their home.

“With Estuardo and me together, everything is okay and the kids. Whatever, we have no money, I don’t care about the money. I need to stay with my family,” said Maria Cardona.

The Cardonas say Estuardo does not have an attorney and he’ll be in front of an immigration judge on Wednesday. They hope to have a clearer timeline on what’s next by the middle of this week.

If you’d like to help the family, a fundraising page has been set up for them.