A 32-year-old undocumented mother, who was granted temporary deportation reprieve under President Obama’s 2012 executive action known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, was deported to Mexico after she tried to reenter the country legally with an immigration document allowing her to travel abroad to visit an ailing family member.
Lesly Sophia Cortez-Martinez, who has three young U.S. citizen children, was on her way back from Mexico through the Chicago O’Hare International Airport this week when Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents prevented her from leaving the airport. As a DACA beneficiary, Cortez-Martinez was allowed to apply for advance parole, which allows some immigrants to travel out of and reenter the United States under certain circumstances for education, business, or a death in the family.
CREDIT: Not1More Campaign
As Cortez-Martinez reentered the United States on Monday night, however, agents saw in the immigration system that she had a prior deportation removal order from 2004. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, the government cannot issue an advance parole document if an applicant is “in exclusion, deportation, removal, or rescission proceedings.”
Cortez-Martinez insisted that she didn’t know about the old removal order, explaining that she went to Mexico for a death in the family and returned to the U.S. without documents, her lawyer Mony Ruiz-Velasco explained to ThinkProgress a day before Cortez-Martinez was deported.
“I feel pretty certain that she would not have traveled outside the country — obviously she’s been here so long, she wasn’t going to risk that — her understanding was that they approved her request meaning that she’s eligible to travel,” Ruiz-Velasco said.
Although Ruiz-Velasco filed an emergency stay of removal, Cortez-Martinez was deported back to the country that she hasn’t lived in since she was a teenager.
“She’s lived here in the United States since she was 15 years old,” Ruiz-Velasco said. “She has no way of coming back to the United States, so she would be permanently separated from her family. Her husband has DACA so he can’t just travel in and out [of the country] and her children are all little, and they’re U.S. citizens. Her ties are all here in the United States.”
Since he took office, President Obama has insisted that his administration would go after “felons, not families,” a refrain based on the idea that immigration officials would dedicate federal resources to prioritizing the detention and deportation of immigrants with criminal violations, rather than undocumented children or parents with long-standing U.S. ties. Obama’s DACA initiative has also helped divert federal resources to pass over undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as young children and have since maintained clean records.
But according to Tania Unzueta, the policy director at the immigrant advocacy group Not1More Campaign, Cortez-Martinez’s case proves that’s not always the case. Cortez-Martinez has three U.S.-citizen children and doesn’t have a criminal record, two qualities that the Obama administration has asked immigration officials to consider before taking people into deportation proceedings.
“The president keeps talking about going after people who are dangerous, and yet we know the people who are actually considered priority [cases] by Border Patrol and by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agencies are members of our community, like Lesly,” Unzueta told ThinkProgress.
And Cortez-Martinez is not alone. Erika Andiola, a prominent immigrant activist, wrote in a public Facebook post last year that she “almost didn’t make it back” into the U.S. even though she had obtained advanced parole. “Border Patrol agent didn’t know what Advanced Parole with DACA was and when he figures it out, and finds on my record a misdemeanor of when I got arrested at Senator Reid’s office in 2010 for the DREAM Act, he starts going on and on about how horrible DACA is and how he shouldn’t let me back in,” Andiola wrote.
Ruiz-Velasco lamented that some of her other clients have also faced mistreatment from border agents when they have tried to reenter the country. “Pretty much every single DACA person that has come back into the country [has] issues at Border Patrol when they enter,” she said. “A lot of them have been treated poorly. A lot have been harassed. They’ve been given a hard time. They have been told that they don’t deserve to be here. One individual was told that DACA doesn’t exist anymore. They have to advocate on their own behalf and that’s how we have prepare them when they travel with advance parole.”
“There’s very little accountability over the people who makes such crucial decisions about who [gets] deported and who gets to stay,” Unzueta insisted. “Right now we’re scrambling trying to find who’s making the ultimate decision at the local level and the national level and the reality is that we only have people in the local DHS office to appeal to. ”
“This is a problem of oversight particularly about these case-by-case decisions that can change people’s lives completely,” she added.
On a press call on Thursday, Not1More noted that the Border Patrol would rescind its deportation order and allow Cortez-Martinez to return to the United States. However, she would be placed in deportation proceedings in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. The press release indicated that ICE "has pledged to seek nullification of her DACA status."
"Now I ask directly to Ricardo Wong, the ICE field director in Chicago, to cancel my deportation proceedings and allow me to move on from this incident and heal with my family," Cortez-Martinez said.