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Man deported to Guatemala in 2017 returns to Maine, reunites with wife

Otto Morales-Caballeros was reunited with his wife Sandra Merlim on Sunday. Morales-Caballeros had lived in the U.S. for 20 years after fleeing war in Guatemala.

PORTLAND, Maine — It has been four long years for Sandra Merlim, but she never gave up hope.

"I knew this day would come, I just didn't know when. It was always a matter of time," Merlim said. On Sunday, she anxiously awaited the arrival of her husband, Otto 'Daniel' Morales-Caballeros. It had been four years since the two had been together in the United States.

"I married him for better or for worse, until death do us part. Not until deportation do us part," Merlim said. 

In April of 2017, her husband, whom she had been dating since 2006, was deported to Guatemala. 

Morales-Caballeros spoke with NEWS CENTER Maine over the phone in 2018, one year after being deported. He moved to the U.S. when he was just 16 years old, at the end of the Guatemalan Civil War. He said that at the time, he did not understand how to navigate the U.S. immigration system and was advised to simply fly under the radar.

For decades, he lived a quiet life in Maine. He held a job, got married, and became a part of his community. But he was eventually caught using fraudulent documents for employment. Morales-Caballeros says he was cooperative with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and tried for years to get legal immigration status.

RELATED: ‘It's not my world,' says Naples man deported to Guatemala

In 2017, however, ICE officers caught him by surprise and arrested him on his way to work. He went to jail, then boarded a plane wearing handcuffs. He had been in Guatemala ever since.

Appeal attempts of his deportation have been denied because he did not immediately apply for asylum. Judges also denied his request for "withholding from removal," which would have given him a green card to work in the U.S., according to Merlim. 

Merlim said she filed multiple waivers requests to get her husband back to Maine.

The couple had been working with an immigration attorney to get waivers approved, however, due to a backlog in the immigration courts, Morales-Caballeros’ case moved slowly.

It wasn't until 2020, when Sandra suffered a serious medical event, that her husband's case was expedited. The couple found out last week he'd been approved to return to his home. 

"It took me eight years to decide to marry this man and nothing is going to stop me from bringing him back," Merlim said. 

After waiting for about 30 minutes at the Portland Jetport on Sunday, Sandra got the first glimpse of her husband coming to the stairs as she waited in the lobby below.

The two rushed together and hugged. Sandra had visited Guatemala twice and spoke with him over the phone multiple times a day, but finally, the couple was reunited.

"I am so happy ... he's home," Sandra said as tears rolled down her cheeks. The two smiled ear to ear as they held their hands together. 

"I love my wife. She's the best," Otto said. 

The two continued holding hands all the way to baggage claim. The couple plans to relax at their home in Brunswick for now. They hope to soon travel as well. For now, however, they're just excited to be back together.