PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - An undocumented worker is fighting to stay in Florida after more than a decade living in the U.S.
Manuel Guerra is getting help from a Boynton Beach lawyer and admits he crossed the Rio Grande and came into the U.S. without documentation 11 years ago.
The Martin County resident said he was desperate to try and build a new life. But just when he thought he might be able to do that, he faces deportation within a matter of weeks.
Guerra's attorney says the desire to go against all odds has come back to haunt him after he applied to get a work permit.
He was put in deportation proceedings because of a notary who he says took his money and didn't tell him that by filling out certain forms he could be put in deportation.
At age 16, Guerra lived in a small city in Mexico where he was told his family would be killed if he didn't join a Mexican street gang named "Pacquillas," which he says tried to kill him twice.
"They were doing bad stuff," he said. 'They were fighting against other groups."
Little by little, Guerra found himself involuntarily part of the gang. But instead of dealing drugs and fighting, Guerra says he wanted to write books.
"I wanted to get out as soon as possible," he said.
Guerra saw a new direction for his life and that direction was north to the United States.
"My other sister said 'Oh you can come to the United States if you want. You can come and get an education,' " Guerra said.
And that's what he did. After a journey with little food and only the clothes on his back, Guerra walked for five days across mountainous terrain, dodging immigration officers, feeding on grass and crossing the Texas border illegally.
"I was so happy I was on the other side of the river," he said. "I was so happy."
Since coming to the U.S. at age 16, he's now 27, Guerra has been a dishwasher, learned English and put himself through high school and the ROTC program.
He now works closely with his church and hopes to be a priest.
Guerra says if he is deported, going back to Mexico will be like starting a new life all over again.
"I know more about the United States of America than I know about Mexico," he said.
Guerra's hearing is scheduled for September 1, 2011 in Miami. An online petition has started in his support.