One month after he was detained by federal immigration officers on his way to work, Otto Morales-Caballeros, of Naples, has been deported to Guatemala.

Morales-Caballeros, 37, fled violence in Guatemala alone at age 16 and entered the United States without legal documentation. Until today, he had not set foot in his home country for more than 20 years.

He was living in Naples with his wife, Sandra Scribner Merlim, when he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on his way to work April 12. His deportation had been delayed for years under the Obama administration’s policies, and his arrest is seen as a sign of the escalation in immigration enforcement under President Trump.

Merlim confirmed Thursday afternoon her husband has landed in Guatemala. Morales-Caballeros called his sister, who still lives in Guatemala, from the consulate to let her know he had arrived. Merlim said she hoped to hear from him as soon as he could make an international phone call.

“If I know him, he is looking for a way to call me,” she said.

Merlim said the couple has been trying to obtain legal status for Morales-Caballeros for more than a decade. However, her husband wasn’t aware asylum applicants need to apply within one year of arriving in the United States, so their efforts years later failed.

An ICE spokesperson said a federal judge issued a removal order for Morales-Caballeros in 2010, and court documents show he pleaded guilty in 2013 to a federal charge of felony use of fraudulent documents. He had used false identification and a fake Social Security number while seeking work. State records show he has no other criminal record in Maine.

Merlim said the couple had been assured in the past by immigration officials that Morales-Caballeros would not be deported if he stayed out of legal trouble. However, President Trump issued an executive order in January that greatly expanded the government’s priorities for immigration enforcement. For example, agents are now instructed to remove anyone with a criminal conviction and anyone who already has been issued a removal order. Last month, The Washington Post reported, immigration arrests had increased more than 30 percent.

Morales-Caballeros left Guatemala after his brother was murdered and his niece was killed, Merlim said. He first lived in New Jersey and moved to Maine in the mid-2000s. Merlim and Morales-Caballeros have been together for 11 years, and they married in 2015.

Merlim will fight for her husband’s return, and she said she has filed the first document required to obtain permanent residency in the United States for a noncitizen spouse. But that process, already lengthy and complicated, will be even more difficult because of his deportation and the length of time he spent without legal status. A GoFundMe campaign had already raised more than $8,000 as of Thursday afternoon, but Merlim said she thinks she will need $10,000 more to cover legal expenses.

In the meantime, Merlim has applied for her passport and hopes the process can be expedited. She hasn’t seen her husband since he was in a detention facility in New Hampshire, and she wants to visit him in Guatemala.

“As soon as I can get a ticket and a passport,” Merlim said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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