This post has been updated.
Bartender Juan “J.P.” Caceres-Rojas has shaken his last cocktail in Washington for a while.
The native of Bolivia, who raised more than $20,000 online for his legal defense following a bizarre fight with a cabbie in December, must leave the country Friday after federal immigration officials denied his request to remain in the United States for another year.
"I thought it was a long shot," says the bartender's immigration attorney, Andres Benach, who argued Caceres-Rojas did not qualify as a priority target for removal. In 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a memo prioritizing the groups of individuals on which the agency should focus its deportation efforts; they include criminals and those who pose a threat to national security or have committed immigration fraud.
"The case," says Benach about his client, "was about who he wasn't."
The attorney had filed for a stay of deportation for Caceres-Rojas, who goes by the name, J.P. Caceres. Such requests are typically granted, Benach says, for illegal immigrants who have spouses or children or those with a serious health problem. In February, Caceres-Rojas was granted a three-month stay so he could appear in D.C. Superior Court to face criminal charges from the altercation with a cab driver.
A Superior Court judge cleared Caceres-Rojas on all charges in April. The mixologist's many supporters had hoped his acquittal would clear the way for him to remain in the country.
Immigration officials decided otherwise. "Mr. Caceres-Rojas overstayed his visa in 2010 and failed to depart from the country after an immigration judge granted him voluntary removal. His request for a stay of removal was denied," an ICE spokesman said in a prepared statement.
An ICE official noted the agency's priority targets, as pointed out in the 2011 memo, also include immigrant "fugitives who have been ordered removed and not left."
Caceres-Rojas officially left for Bolivia this morning. He will now begin his efforts to return to the States on an 0-1 visa, which is reserved for “individuals with an extraordinary ability” in fields including the sciences, athletics and the arts. Attorney Benach said it's a three-step process to secure the visa: Caceres-Rojas must first file a petition explaining why he qualifies for the visa, then he must apply for a visa at the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia. Finally, Caceres-Rojas must secure a waiver from a 10-year ban on individuals who lived in the United States illegally for more than a year.
"I think J.P. is certainly at the top of what he does," Benach says. "He's got a lot of evidence to support that. He's supported by the biggest names in the community."
Even if Caceres-Rojas files for an expedited petition, his attorney says it will be at least four to six months before the bartender returns to the District. The worst-case scenario is that Caceres-Rojas would have to wait out the entire decade-long ban before returning.
Caceres-Rojas spent Thursday night at Kapnos on 14th Street NW, saying goodbye to friends and colleagues. In his wake, Caceres-Rojas leaves behind Let's Imbibe Beverage Consulting, a company that his partners will run while he tries to return to the States. He also leaves his fingerprints on numerous bars in the D.C. area, whether with his smoky cocktails at Del Campo or his Thai-spiced drinks at Soi 38; it's a line of craft cocktails that show off how far Caceres-Rojas had come during his years in the United States. He started bussing tables at the downtown location of Jaleo in the early 2000s.
Taha Ismail, beverage director for Mike Isabella's restaurants, sent Caceres-Rojas off with an original punch on Thursday: Ismail dubbed it, "Bolivia's Most Wanted."