Utah father who lost son to cancer still facing deportation
Provo • For the first time in eight days, Maribel Melgar saw her husband.
Rogelio Melgar, facing possible deportation, sat Tuesday morning in the jury box in Provo's 4th District Court along with six other defendants each shackled and wearing colored jail jumpsuits. Her husband's was lime green, but that wasn't what she noticed.
"He's much skinnier," she said. "And his hair is different, too."
Rogelio Melgar looked over at his family, his lip quivering under a thick black mustache as he tried to hold it together.
When it came time for him to stand before Judge Samuel DeVey, he shuffled to a podium, where a translator was waiting. After a quick greeting, DeVey asked the prosecutor about the status of the 39-year-old Guatemalan's case.
Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander said the state wasn't ready to file charges against Melgar, even though he had been arrested July 11 for allegedly using false documents to obtain employment at American Fork's Heritage Care Center.
With that, DeVey told Melgar his $5,000 bond was released and he was free to go.
Except he really wasn't.
Melgar was sent back to the Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork. He remains under federal investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is holding him there without bond.
"I don't know what the federal government is going to do," Grunander said.
ICE officials do not comment on individual cases other than to confirm suspects are in jail. But Grunander said it is not unusual for the state to drop its charges if the federal government is pursuing the same charges.
Barbara Melendez, an immigration attorney in Salt Lake City, said ICE has several options, including filing criminal charges or going straight to a deportation hearing. She said she planned to meet with Rogelio Melgar on Tuesday evening at the jail.
"This is an amazing family," Melendez said, "that has gone through hell and back."
Melgar's case has generated interest because in May, his 17-year-old son, Brayan Melgar, died after a long battle against cancer. A popular teenager at Timpanogos High who was voted Inspirational Upperclassman of the Year, Brayan received an honorary diploma from the principal. The student's funeral was attended by more than 300 people as the Melgars became a focal point in their school and LDS community.
The family is still reeling from the loss, but Maribel Melgar said she is grateful to have had her son for an additional 12 years. She believes if he hadn't gotten medical care in the United States, he would've died in Guatemala years ago.
When Brayan was 4, he came to Utah for treatment of throat cancer. As the care continued through the years, Rogelio Melgar needed to work. With expired visas, the parents decided the family would stay while their son battled cancer. The family at the time, two parents and two sons arrived on tourist visas.
For several years, the father worked at the care center as a cook while his wife stayed at home to tend to the family which had grown with the addition of twin girls and a young boy. Those three children are U.S. citizens.
Jorge Chacon, the bishop in their Mormon ward and a family friend, was at court Tuesday and said he visited with Melgar in jail Monday night.
"He is stressed out right now," Chacon said, "not from being in jail, but being away from his family."
Hans Melgar, 16, stood outside the elevator after the court appearance and said it was hard seeing his father shackled up and being led away. He also said he saw his dad trying to fight back tears. Not far away, his mother didn't hold back hers.
"I'm glad God stays with us," she said. "It's hard enough to lose a child, but to also see my husband in jail we are just hoping he gets out."
For now, however, the family will have to wait.
Normand Garcia contributed to this report