YORO, Honduras - Amidst steep and rugged mountains, in the town of El Bálsamo, Honduras, Delmer Joel Ramírez Palma sat motionless on a wooden bench while one of his nephews cut his hair. Ramirez – who was injured in the October 12 collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans – gave an exclusive interview to Univision News.
He was part of the group of workers that had information that placed in doubt the quality of the hotel’s construction.
Joel, as he’s known in his hometown in the northwest of Honduras, left for the United States when he was 18 years-old.
“The need to help my family, that’s the main thing that brought me to the United States, since in Honduras it’s very difficult,” he said. Today, the 38-year-old says that his life got torn apart, leaving him unsure how to put it back together.
Of medium stature and an endearing smile, Ramirez left Honduras in 1999. Ever since, despite not having legal authorization, he worked in the construction industry in New Orleans, including helping to rebuild the city alongside countless other immigrants after it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
It was in Louisiana that he met his wife, Tania Bueso, who is Honduran and with whom he has a son. Together they were also raising two other children of Bueso’s from a previous relationship who are American citizens.
In 2016 a federal judge ordered Ramirez’s deportation, but he was able to remain because he demonstrated that his 10-year-old son Anthony would be affected by his departure.
“My son is autistic and I haven’t wanted to leave the United States because of his treatment, because in [Honduras] it’s very difficult,” said Ramirez. “I didn’t have legal documents because I’ve been applying for residency since 2011.”
In 2017 his request was denied, but he continued fighting over the next two years.
“Three months ago I had filed an appeal, it was my last attempt because I didn’t want to leave,” said Ramirez. “I hadn’t changed my address or anything. I wanted everything to be legal.”
But 48 hours after the collapse of the hotel he was arrested while fishing. “It seems unfair to me what they’ve done,” he said.
Ramirez told Univison that he had a November 1 court date set for his appeal. Although he doesn’t know what would have happened, he guarded the hope that he could have stayed in the United States.
“I probably would have been detained or maybe they would have allowed me to leave on my own terms,” he said. “But at least I would have seen my family once more.”
More bad news to swallow
Ramirez’s mother, Hilda Palma, met him at the airport in San Pedro Sula the day of his deportation. He was surprised by the sorrow in her eyes and incessant crying. When they stopped for food in a nearby city he found out the reason for so much melancholy.
“First I’ll let you eat,” he recalled his mother telling him. But that just made him more anxious.
“Mom, what are you hiding from me?” he said.
“Your father is dead,” she replied.
Two weeks after Ramirez was arrested, his father Juan Ramon died of a heart attack at the age of 72. In that moment, the illusion he had of seeing his father upon arriving home died as well.
“I never got the chance to see him again,” said Ramirez, sobbing and averting his eyes toward the floor. “I need my wife and I need my kids because they are my support in these painful times.”
But now there’s a sea between him and his wife and three children and although he’s in his hometown with his mom, he’s unsure what to do. He’s the sixth of eight brothers, all of whom live in the United States. His heart wavers between wanting to be with his family and a desire to stay with his mother, who now lives alone.
“I wouldn’t want to go back to the United States illegally,” he said. “But for my family to come here to Honduras would also be difficult because they are not accustomed to being here.
He preferred not to speak about the investigation into the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel for which he is a key witness who could help clarify what went wrong. But what he did say is that it seemed contradictory to him that the same government that is obligating him to reveal the causes of the collapse accelerated his deportation, spinning his life around in once unimaginable ways.
In the end, he and his wife will decide what to do together.
“All that I’d ask, as a Christian, is that [the immigration authorities] be more considerate because sometimes they do inhumane things,” he said. “I don’t consider myself a danger for the United States.”