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'Dreamer' dies trying to rescue Harvey flood victims

Alonso Guillen drove more than 100 miles south from his home in Lukfin, Texas, last week, determined to help those trapped by Hurricane Harvey flooding in the Houston area.

But he and another man disappeared after their boat capsized in a flood-swollen creek Wednesday, and relatives began searching for their bodies.

On Friday, searchers found the body of Tomas Carreon, 25, of Lufkin. On Sunday, relatives spotted Guillen’s body.

“He was floating in the water,” his brother Jesus Guillen, 36, a Lufkin truck driver, said in Spanish during a phone interview.

Luis Ortega, 22, of Lufkin, who survived the boat accident, told searchers the men had been swept away by a powerful current. Ortega barely escaped by grabbing a floating gas tank, then a tree.

Relatives said Guillen, a Mexican national, was a “Dreamer” enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Trump is said to be poised to scrap, though he may leave it intact for six months to give Congress time to find a legislative solution. (Ortega is a U.S. citizen, as was Carreon, Guillen’s brother said.)

Guillen moved to Lufkin at age 14 from just across the border in Piedras Negras, Mexico. He later graduated from Lufkin High School, attended St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, worked in construction and at a local club, Rodeo Disko, and radio station, SuperMix 101.9 FM.

He was known as “DJ Ocho,” who mixed country and hip-hop, followed Texans football and the Houston Astros, played softball and soccer, sported Cowboy hats and red, white and blue sunglasses.

He used the station to organize fundraisers for those in need. “It didn’t matter what situation it was,” said friend Linda Alvarez.

Guillen masterminded the rescue trip to the Houston area just like one of his radio station fundraisers: on the fly, with friends’ help. After the storm hit, they borrowed a boat and drove south to save strangers.

Like many in Texas, Guillen’s family has mixed immigration status and is divided by the border. His mother, a Mexican national, still lives in Piedras Negras, Mexico, with one of his brothers. His father is a legal resident, and his brother Jesus is a U.S. citizen.

Alonso Guillen applied for DACA, an Obama-era program that protected from deportation about 800,000 immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. He applied because so many of his family and friends were in the U.S., and that’s where he saw his future, his brother said.

“His dream was to open a restaurant, something the whole family could enjoy and where they could come together,” his brother said.

“He was trying; he was always updated with the news about the Dreamer program. He was ready to get it fixed and done,” friend Manny Muniz said of Guillen’s immigration status.

Muniz, a fellow disc jockey, met Guillen a few years ago in the midst of a more minor crisis: He had booked a gig and didn’t have any speakers. Guillen lent him some, and they started working together.

After the storm struck, Guillen started posting weather reports on Facebook.

Early last week Guillen told Muniz he was headed to Houston, “to go save lives, go help people, volunteer his time.”

Muniz said part of the reason Guillen applied for DACA and wanted to become a legal resident was that he longed to be able to cross the border legally to visit Mexico, especially his hometown.

Instead, Guillen will be buried this week in Lufkin. He is survived by an 8-year-old daughter, Mariana, who lives in Guanajuato, Mexico, his brother said.

Guillen’s family is planning his funeral at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Guillen’s mother may not be allowed to attend. The U.S. government has not granted her permission to cross the border for the service, relatives said.

“We hope that she can come, that they allow her to come,” said Jesus Guillen’s 14-year-old daughter, Zorayda.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection tweeted condolences to Guillen’s family Monday, calling him “a rescue volunteer who died during Hurricane Harvey” and promising to allow Guillen’s mother to cross the border to attend his funeral.

Jesus Guillen said he hopes the DACA program will not be dismantled.

“It gives people like my brother opportunities to be better, to have strength and believe in themselves and become what they want to be,” he said.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Twitter: @mollyhf

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