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NYLAG helps get pregnant mom Alma Santiago released from ICE detention

For Immediate Release  

Contact: bpacheco@nylag.org | c: 917.771.9845

(NEW YORK, NY) July 9, 2019: The Department of Homeland Security has released Alma Centeno Santiago—a pregnant New York woman detained by ICE in April 2019— from detention. Alma arrived back to New York City in the early morning of Saturday, July 6 and had an emotional reunion with her U.S. citizen children, ages 3 and 11, at JFK airport. Thanks to a legal team led by New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) attorneys, along with co-counsel from Greenberg Traurig and NSC Community Legal Defense, Alma can remain in the United States, with her young children, while seeking the due process she is fighting for. 

“Alma’s case highlights how immigrants’ rights are too often violated. We argued that while in detention, Alma advocated for her health and that of her unborn child and, in retaliation, was placed into immediate deportation. We also argued that Alma was denied due process of law because she had never had a chance to seek the immigration relief we believe she is entitled to. We are glad that Alma can be reunited with her family and now get the necessary medical care for herself and her unborn child while we help her seek that relief. NYLAG will always stand for the rights of all, regardless of immigration status,” said Melissa Chua, Associate Director of NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit. 

“The last few months without Alma have been overwhelmingly sad and scary. We have lived the nightmare that every immigrant family fears. During this difficult time, our priority has been the well-being of her children who have missed their mother terribly. Having Alma back to be with her children and focus on her pregnancy is a blessing. What she experienced in ICE detention was traumatic and we ask for privacy at this time so she can focus on healing and being with her kids away from the news. We hope that Alma’s case highlights that real people, real families with US citizen children, are being harmed by our immigration system. We want to thank all the elected officials, news media, and especially Alma’s lawyers at NYLAG and their co-counsel for everything they did to bring attention to this injustice and to get Alma back home where she belongs. With Alma back home, our hearts are full,” said Jennifer Pacheco, a close family friend. 

Alma was detained outside of a Queens courthouse by ICE in April 2019 and then fast-tracked to be deported. 

“While in ICE custody, she experienced a medically difficult pregnancy. She advocated for herself and her unborn child because ICE was denying her proper food and medical care. However, instead of providing her proper nutrition and medical care, ICE isolated Alma, continued to deny her basic care, and was indifferent to her suffering and the suffering of her family, which includes two U.S. citizen children. ICE routinely inflicts maltreatment and abuse on detained immigrants who have fled from violence and persecution in their home countries. But Alma and others like her are not ‘illegal’ or ‘criminal,’ and they deserve fair treatment. Alma is absolutely no risk to the community,” said Jodi Ziesemer, Director of NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit. 

On June 25, 2019, NYLAG lawyers sought an emergency stay of Alma’s removal from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The next day, the BIA denied Alma’s request and ICE transferred her to a facility in Louisiana as the first step in her removal to Guatemala. But a team of dedicated NYLAG lawyers, along with co-counsel, jumped into action and filed an emergency request in federal court for the Southern District Court of New York to prevent ICE from precipitously deporting Alma to Guatemala.  The Court granted a Temporary Restraining Order to allow further proceedings. The Department of Homeland Security subsequently agreed to release Alma Centeno Santiago from ICE detention. 

There was a lot of public support to release Alma, including a #FreeAlma hashtag on social media, as well as public support from Congressman Gregory Meeks, Tiffany Cabán, and Senator Gillibrand. 

Last year, NYLAG handled 18,534 immigration cases—from asylum claims to deportation defense—affecting 36,000 people, including mothers like Alma. 


Founded in 1990, the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) is a leading not-for-profit legal services organization advocating for adults, children, and families that are experiencing poverty or have low-income. We address emerging and urgent needs with comprehensive, free civil legal services, direct representation, impact litigation, policy advocacy, financial counseling, a medical-legal partnership model, and community education and partnerships.


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