After losing a son to cancer, Utah family may lose father to deportation
Orem • Rogelio Melgar lost his son in May, his job last week and now faces the prospect of losing his residency in the United States for the rest of his life.
The 39-year-old Guatemalan is on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold at the Utah County Jail after he was arrested July 11 for alleged possession of false documents.
He is being arraigned Tuesday in Provo's 4th District Court, though the state has yet to formally file charges against him.
The arrest surprised Melgar's wife of 20 years, Maribel Melgar, who believed the hardest hand the family had been dealt the death of their 17-year-old son to cancer had already played itself out.
"It breaks my heart," she said in Spanish. "He doesn't deserve to be there."
She stood in the living room of the family's modest Orem apartment, where the walls are adorned with photos of Brayan Melgar, who died of throat cancer in May. One photo was signed by more than a hundred students at Timpanogos High and featured the teen wearing his graduation gown.
Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at a portrait of the family the parents along with their 4-year-old son, twin 8-year-old girls, 16-year-old Hans and Brayan.
That picture now seems especially painful. The dad is in jail. The eldest son, whose battle against cancer brought the family to the United States, is gone. The family is fractured. Father, mother and Hans are undocumented; the three younger children are U.S. citizens by birth.
Right now, only Rogelio Melgar faces deportation for allegedly using a false Social Security number to work as a cook at an American Fork retirement home. His wife has been a stay-at-home mom.
"But I will go where my husband goes," she said.
Chance at life
The Melgars' journey to the United States began in 1999, when Brayan Melgar, then 4, was diagnosed with throat cancer while they lived in their native Guatemala.
Unable to get needed care, they contacted a charitable foundation that sponsored the family to come to Utah for surgeries and treatment for the child.
They were issued six-month tourist visas and entered the country legally.
But Maribel Melgar said her son's illness was far graver than imagined, and doctors told her they would have to stay longer. They got three-month extensions on their visas, but her son's illness was on no such timetable.
So the family stayed so he could continue treatments.
"He needed to be in surgery every three weeks," she said. "There isn't that kind of treatment available in Guatemala."
Knowing the Melgars might have to settle in for a while, a family sponsored them and offered the father a job at a restaurant while their son continued to receive medical care.
By 2004, the restaurant had shut down and the sponsor managed to get Rogelio Melgar work as a cook at Heritage Care Center in American Fork. It is unclear when he allegedly obtained a false Social Security number in order to work.
ICE spokeswoman Lori K. Haley would not comment on the case other than to confirm he was being held.
American Fork police Sgt. Gregg Ludlow noted his city sent an officer to the Human Resources Department at Heritage Care Center at the request of ICE, which he said was conducting its own investigation.
Maribel Melgar said she isn't sure why her husband became the subject of an investigation. Ludlow said Rogelio Melgar was picked up for allegedly using a false Social Security number to obtain employment a felony.
Maribel said she never has used a false Social Security number to obtain employment.
Under federal law, overstaying a visa is a civil infraction with a variety of penalties, including removal from the country.
The Melgars also have faced civil judgments from several collection agencies, according to court records, including one that secured a court order to garnishee wages from the father's $10.75-an-hour job.
It is unknown what triggered Rogelio Melgar's July 11arrest the last time Maribel saw her husband. She won't visit him in jail, because she is scared.
Brayan Melgar got an honorary high school diploma because Principal Theron Murphy was told the teen likely wouldn't make it to graduation day. He died May 5.
Murphy, who became principal of Timpanogos High three years ago, said it was a no-brainer. Brayan was so beloved at school that he was named Inspirational Upperclassman of the Year. The school even raised $3,500 to help the family with medical bills.
"He was a human being and a very important person on our campus," Murphy said. "Even toward the end, he gave as much as his body would allow him to give."
When Brayan died, Jorge Chacon, the bishop at the Melgars' LDS ward, said more than 300 people attended the funeral. He said the family became a focal point for the ward and the school community.
The father's arrest, he said, has been a brutal blow for a family still grieving.
"I call the family every day and have some other people just visiting with Sister Melgar so she can find some comfort," Chacon said. "She is very nervous about this whole thing, and I don't blame her."
For Maribel Melgar, emotions remain tender from the death of her son she cries easily when he is mentioned and she views her stay in the United States as one of necessity.
She said no mother would leave her critically ill child alone in the hospital and sees her stay in the country as a choice between life and death.
"If we had stayed in Guatemala, my son would've been dead at 6 years old," she said. "But God gave us a chance to have our son for another 12 years in this country."
Rogelio Melgar is scheduled to appear Tuesday before Judge Samuel McVey at 8:30 a.m. in Provo's 4th District Court.