EVANSVILLE, Minn. - Julio Estrada Escobar was born and raised in Guatemala. But in 2001, at the age of 18, he fled to the United States - illegally - to find work.
He needed money to pay for the loans his family took out when his mother fell deathly ill and medical bills were beginning to pile up.
Julio left behind his parents, three younger siblings and many more close family members.
Today, Julio sits in the Carver County Jail in Chaska waiting to find out if he is being deported back to Guatemala.
Julio, his wife, Nancy, and their two children, Julio, 13, and Candis, 11, live in Evansville. He is employed on a farm owned by Tim and Naomi Anderson. Nancy also works part time at a restaurant in Melby and helps on the farm when needed. Their children attend Ashby public schools.
Nancy shared her husband's story.
Julio's journey to the United States, according to his wife, was a horrific one.
Nancy said Julio paid a "coyotaje," a human smuggler, to get him across the border. While traveling by boat to the United States, he was shot at by Mexican security forces but not hurt, she said.
Julio settled in Sioux City, Iowa. Nancy said he applied for asylum, which she said is a relief visa, but he did not qualify at that time. Julio did not apply for a regular visa, she said, because it cost $500 and all his money was sent back home to his father to pay off the family's debts.
Reportedly, his money did not make it in time and three of Julio's first cousins were murdered by henchmen. Nancy said one was shot to death, another was poisoned and the third one was hacked to death with a machete.
In addition, Julio's father received threatening phone calls asking for the money and also the whereabouts of his son. The family was threatened and told they had to pay 50,000 quetzals - nearly $7,000 U.S. dollars - plus interest. Julio's family was told the henchmen would be waiting for Julio to return to Guatemala and that he would be murdered if he did.
Nancy said this is why Julio has never returned - he fears for his life.
Minnesota, then Mexico
After arriving in the United States, Julio lived and worked in several different areas. While living in Pelican Rapids in 2002, Julio and Nancy met and started dating. She was 16 years old at the time.
"It was actually not love at first sight," said Nancy with a big grin on her face. "I found him annoying. But he was persistent, and very polite and respectful."
One thing she really liked about him was that he had a certain time each week when he would call home to talk to his mother and check on her. She said he never missed a phone call with her.
They continued dating and their relationship quickly blossomed, she said.
Then, in 2003, even though he did not have a valid driver's license, Julio was driving and was pulled over. Because he feared for his life if he was sent back to Guatemala, Nancy said Julio told authorities he was from Mexico and he was deported there instead of his home country.
"He was so scared," Nancy said.
She explained that he stayed with her relatives in Mexico. Nancy's parents, who are both legal permanent residents of the U.S., are from Mexico and they still have family there so Julio stayed with them, Nancy said. She also said that some of her family was not so willing to help and one uncle told her, "I can't help him; he's from Guatemala."
Julio stayed in Mexico for about a month, Nancy said, before she and her parents drove there to pick him up and bring him back home.
"I remember when we arrived and Julio saw me," said Nancy. "He was so happy and we were both crying. We hugged and just held onto each other. He thanked me for coming to pick him up."
Returning to the U.S.
Nancy and her family weren't sure how they were going to get Julio back to the U.S. They contacted a lawyer to find out if Nancy and Julio could get married. She said they couldn't because she was underage.
"We needed to find a way," she said. "We ended up finding this guy and he made Julio a fake green card. It was identical to my parents' card. Julio was nervous, but we needed to figure something out and this was it."
Nancy explained that the family left in the middle of the night, sometime between 2 and 3 a.m. As they approached the border, Nancy said they were all nervous.
"I felt like I couldn't breathe. I was trying to take deep breaths. I was so nervous and scared," she said. "We all prayed and said the Our Father."
Nancy said her dad handed the Border Patrol officers all of their green cards and when they were asked where they were headed, they told the officer home, to Minnesota. They were asked if they had anything to declare and told the officer they did not.
"The officers and their dogs searched our car," she said. "They never questioned Julio. They waved us through and told us to have a good trip home. It was a huge sigh of relief."
However, her dad told her not to "sing the victory song yet" because there was still one more border station to go through. But, she said it was the same thing at that one and they all made it through. She said Julio was "inspected and admitted," meaning he was admitted legally.
"If you cross the border and get inspected and they (Border Patrol) let your through, then you are through," Nancy said.
She also said the fake green card Julio used was immediately destroyed.
Julio and Nancy were married on Feb. 13, 2004, and after moving around for several years, they moved in 2013 to Evansville, where they have lived since.
The Andersons, who are their employers, said Nancy and Julio are treasures and have become quite close to them.
"We had such a hard time finding good, honest help for our farm," Naomi Anderson said. "Julio was not only those things, but he became our good friend and someone we could rely on. We miss him. I miss hearing him yell out to my little boy, 'Georgie!' There is a big hole without him."
Nancy said Julio's mother passed away this past April and that he was heartbroken he couldn't be there for the funeral.
Julio was taken into custody in July after being pulled over in Otter Tail County.
He is eligible for to be released from jail Saturday, Oct. 21, which is when he comples 90 days of detention. His case will be reviewed by Eric O'Denius, the deportation officer who was assigned to him.
Nancy said Julio will then have a reasonable fear hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 7. He has to prove he fears going back to Guatemala.
If the courts decide there is credible fear, Julio can remain in the United States. He would be given a temporary work visa, which he will have to renew every year.
If the fear is not substantiated, Nancy said Julio will remain in custody until his deportation. If that happens, the family will appeal, she said.
• 2001-2003: At age 18 and with his family in debt, Julio Estrada Escobar leaves Guatemala to work in the United States. Eventually, he moves to Pelican Rapids where he meets his future wife, Nancy Trujillo.
• 2003: Julio is pulled over and does not have a legal driver's license. He tells authorities he is from Mexico and is deported there to stay with Nancy's family. Nancy's parents are able to bring him back to the U.S. a month later.
• Feb. 13, 2004: Nancy and Julio are married.
• 2013: Julio and Nancy, now with two children, move to Evansville, where they meet and start working for Tim and Naomi Anderson, who own a farm north of Evansville.
• February 2017: The family starts the process for Julio to receive his official Green Card.
• July 22, 2017: Nancy is working in Park Rapids and hadn't seen her kids all week because they had been at a Bible camp. Julio is driving them to visit Nancy when he gets pulled over in Otter Tail County. Julio is taken into custody; Nancy arrives to get the kids.
• July through October 2017: Julio was in the Otter Tail County Jail, then he was sent to Pembina, North Dakota, where a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol Station is located. He was then taken to the county jail in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and then finally transferred to the Carver County Jail in Chaska, where he remains today.
• Oct 21, 2017: Julio's case, including letters of support, will be reviewed.
• Nov. 7, 2017: A hearing is scheduled to determine if Julio's contention that his life would be in danger if he returned to Guatemala is reasonable.