Family says ICE deported father after telling him they found his wallet

When Flavio Musmanno got a phone call about his missing wallet, he assumed the person on the other end was a friendly stranger who just wanted to help.

'My father doesn't have any criminal record, not even a parking ticket,' says step-daughter Paola

Flavio Musmanno is pictured here with his wife Fabiana Zuin, a U.S. citizen. Musmanno was deported to Argentina on Tuesday after 18 years in the United States. (United For Our Dad/GoFundMe)
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When Flavio Musmanno got a phone call about his missing wallet, he assumed the person on the other end was a friendly stranger who just wanted to help. 

The Miami father of four was working a construction job in Ohio when he lost his wallet on Aug. 28, his family said. 

A few hours later, he got a phone call from someone who spoke Spanish and arranged to meet him at a nearby truck stop to return the wallet, which contained $40 US in cash and two bank cards. 

"When he gets there, it was immigration," Musmanno's stepdaughter Paola told As It Happens host Carol Off. "On the call, they never told it was a police officer or nothing."

As It Happens is withholding Paola's last name over concerns about her own immigration status. 

Musmanno — who had been living in the U.S. for 18 years — was arrested by border agents and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson confirmed Musmanno's arrest, but said agents are "not authorized to discuss tactics used in the apprehension."

He was deported Tuesday to his native Argentina.

Saying goodbye 

Before he was put on the plane, he was allowed to have access to his phone very briefly and spoke to his family.

Paola said Musmanno told her that he came to the U.S. with "big dreams" and $2,000. "Now I'm going back with my dreams all over the floor and just $100."

On Facebook, he wrote one final message from the United States: Translated from Spanish, it reads: "I lost this battle, but I promise you that I will not lose the war. I truly love you all. Today I'm sad but with the support of my beautiful family and friends, I will overcome it."

Musmanno first arrived in the U.S. in 2000 under a visa waiver program. After his visa expired, he stayed.

He married his longtime partner and Paola's mother Fabiana Zuin in 2017, when she was a permanent resident. They have four children and two grandchildren. 

The path to permanent residency?

Now his wife is a U.S. citizen and Paola said the couple recently filed a petition for Musmanno to get his green card.

She said immigration officials confirmed they had received the application and were processing it — something U.S. Customs and Border Protection denies. 

"Maybe they can do the same thing that they do to my father or somebody the FBI is looking for or some guy who has bad record or criminal record. I understand that. Of course I want a better country, you know?" Paola said.

"But I don't understand why they deport my father, who has a petition already. I don't understand that. It's not fair. ... My father doesn't have any criminal record, not even a parking ticket."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. on February 9, 2017. (Bryan Cox/ICE/Reuters)

In an emailed statement to As It Happens, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that Musmanno was arrested on Aug. 28 and turned over to ICE for deportation after 18 years in the U.S., but said there was no petition for residency on his file.

"Individuals who overstay the terms of their visa are unable to obtain legal status," a spokesperson said.

"U.S. Border Patrol verified that at the time of his arrest, Mr. Musmanno had no petitions on file to change his legal status to permanent residency."

ICE did not respond to a request for comment.

'I don't want to see him go'

Musmanno's family said they fear what the future holds.

"I still can't believe it. I'm still in shock," his 16-year-old son Francisco told the Miami-based Rise News.

"It hasn't hit me yet that my dad may not be part of my life for a while and I just don't want to see him go."

It hasn't hit me yet that my dad may not be part of my life for a while and I just don't want to see him go.-  Francisco , Musmanno's teenage son 

Paola said she worries her stepdad will be the target violence in Argentina, where a financial crisis has left people desperate.

His neighbours may assume that because he lived in Miami, he has money, she said. 

"You have no idea how bad is my country. You have no idea," Paola said. "It's really, really bad and we are scared."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Paola produced by Kevin Robertson.