D.C. bar star J.P. Caceres avoids deportation for now

Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post - J.P. Caceres.

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A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official on Wednesday granted embattled bartender Juan “J.P.” Caceres-Rojas a three-month stay to remain in the United States to face criminal charges stemming from a December altercation with a D.C. cab driver.

Caceres-Rojas couldn’t be happier.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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“This is definitely, definitely very good news,” says the mixologist, who goes by the name J.P. Caceres. “It takes a weight off my shoulders.”

It might sound odd for the Bolivian native, deemed an “immigrant fugitive” by ICE, to celebrate his day in D.C. Superior Court, but Caceres-Rojas was facing a worse fate: Unless he was granted a stay, the bartender would have been deported Friday to his home country, where he would have to wait 10 years to return to America. Caceres-Rojas was supposed to be deported Feb. 14, but he received a valentine from Mother Nature.

“Due the to snowstorm,” said Andres Benach, an immigration attorney representing Caceres-Rojas, ICE officials “weren’t able to oversee and monitor his departure.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Caceres-Rojas could breathe easier — at least for a little while. M. Yvonne Evans, field office director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations Washington Field Office, granted the bartender’s request for a stay of removal, but only for three months “to allow his current legal proceedings to be adjudicated,” according to an ICE spokesperson. An immigration judge had earlier ordered Caceres-Rojas’s deportation when he failed to voluntarily leave the country by Feb. 10, 2011.

Caceres-Rojas is facing three misdemeanor criminal charges connected to a Dec. 19 incident in the District: simple assault, threats to do bodily harm and possession of a prohibited weapon. A cab driver alleges that Caceres-Rojas berated him and then placed the fare and an ice pick in his right hand, with the five-inch pick pointed toward the driver, and told the cabbie to “take the money.”

Both Caceres-Rojas and his criminal defense attorney, Danny Onorato, declined to comment on the case.

Caceres-Rojas’s battle with immigration authories became a cause for the local hospitality industry, where the bartender has been a fixture, known for his humor and good cheer. His company, Let’s Imbibe Beverage Consulting, has conducted training and developed cocktail programs for places such as Del Campo, Jackie’s Sidebar and MXDC. His colleagues and friends came to the rescue when Caceres-Rojas landed in hot water: More than 250 of them donated a total of $20,280 to his online campaign to raise legal funds.

During a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Caceres-Rojas said he was grateful for the money, but added that it won’t cover all of his legal fees. The bartender said, in fact, that as a result of his recent troubles he is essentially broke. Pisco Porton, the high-end Peruvian liquor, dropped him as its East Coast brand ambassador; the job had been providing most of his income, he said. Money generated from Let’s Imbibe, Caceres-Rojas added, has been rolled back into the company to help grow it.

But Caceres-Rojas also said he has reorganized Let’s Imbibe to give two of his business partners 49 percent of the company “to help me run it in case I have to leave the States. They will be taking care of my clients.” Caceres-Rojas said Let’s Imbibe just re-signed two clients, including Del Campo, and even inked a deal with a new establishment that has yet to open for business.

Should he eventually be deported to Bolivia for a while, Caceres-Rojas said, he has been talking with Victor Albisu, chef and owner behind Del Campo, about opening a South American location of his South American grill concept.

The bartender’s attorney is already preparing for Caceres-Rojas’s deportation to Bolivia. Benach is looking to bring Caceres-Rojas back on a so-called temporary O-1 visa, reserved for “individuals with an extraordinary ability” in fields including the sciences, athletics and the arts. To qualify for the visa, Benach must get a waiver from the 10-year ban. He thinks he can do that.

Back in March 2004, when Caceres-Rojas was married to an American, his wife filed a “petition for alien relative,” which verifies the couple is lawfully married. At the same time, Caceres-Rojas applied for a green card. A year later, in March 2005, Caceres-Rojas and his wife went in for interviews and their marriage was validated, but he had to wait on a green card until the outcome of an FBI “name” or background check.

Caceres-Rojas waited more than three years for the background check. It never came. In the meantime, the bartender got divorced in September 2007. The next year, Caceres-Rojas approached immigration officials to inform them about the divorce; that’s when, Benach said, the goverment revoked his green card petition and started deportation proceedings.

This backlog of background checks is not unusual, Benach said. Some immigrants have waited more than five years for their background checks. Caceres-Rojas was “stymied” from getting his green card, the attorney said. “The only effective way to get out of background checks was to sue” the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, he said.

Benach hopes the backlog — not to mention Caceres-Rojas’s status in the D.C. hospitality industry, which the attorney will have to detail in full — will be enough to secure his client a waiver from the 10-year ban. There is one other potential stumbling block, of course: A conviction in his criminal case with the cabbie could sink Caceres-Rojas’s hope for a return.

His criminal trial is scheduled for April 7.

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