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Pregnant Queens mom moved to ICE detention center in Louisiana ahead of deportation wins last-minute stay

BY Molly Crane-Newman, Leonard Greene, and Kerry Burke
New York Daily News

A pregnant Queens mom caught in the Trump administration’s immigration net won a last-minute stay of deportation Tuesday — just before federal immigration agents were going to fly her to Guatemala, her lawyers said.

The hold was issued by a judge in Manhattan Federal Court hours after the Board of Immigration Appeals denied Alma Sofia Centeno Santiago’s request for a stay of removal. The BIA decision cleared the way for her imminent removal, but the last-minute stay of deportation will buy her more time to plead her case, according to lawyers from the Immigrant Protection division of the New York Legal Assistance Group.

Santiago’s family members in Queens heaved huge sighs of relief when they heard she wouldn’t be shipped out Wednesday — but tensions are still high, one relative said.

“We are happy because we really didn’t know what was going to happen today,” said Naomi Santiago, 26, the detained mom’s niece.

Alma Santiago, who was 18 when she crossed into the U.S. in 2004 — and then got hit with an order of deportation after missing a court appearance in San Antonio — was grabbed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents April 12, and placed in a detention facility in Bergen County, N.J. She has two young children who were born in the U.S. and are American citizens.

Early Tuesday, as Santiago’s story appeared on the front page of the Daily News, ICE moved her to Louisiana in preparation for her deportation Wednesday, her lawyers said.

After the BIA ruled against her at 3:30 p.m., Santiago’s lawyers ran to Manhattan Federal Court to try again for a stay — and this time, they won.

“A team of dedicated (lawyers) filed an emergency request …. to prevent ICE from deporting Alma tomorrow morning after she was transferred to an ICE facility in Louisiana earlier today,” said Melissa Chua associate director of Immigration Protection for NYLAG.

“The court this evening granted a temporary restraining order halting removal of Alma from the U.S. so as to give her an opportunity to fully assert her claims. The court will conduct further proceedings next week,” Chua said. “We will continue to fight for Alma’s right to be heard and her right to remain with her U.S. citizen children.”

Santiago, 33, who is three months pregnant, has been fighting for legal asylum. Her lawyers said she was never notified of her court date in Texas years ago and now wants a chance to amend her status.

Late Tuesday, Santiago’s 70-year-old mother Adeleida Santiago told The News, “I’m just happy because she was not deported as we feared. I want them to set her free because we need her here at home. I just wish she was here right now.”

As the family’s spirits brightened, Santiago’s daughter Amy Julieth Alvarez Centeno, 11, expressed relief. “I’m excited they stopped my mom’s deportation,” she told The News.

“If she went back to Guatemala there would be no one to take care of her when she’s pregnant. I was so sad because if she went back to Guatemala I might never see her again.

“Everybody is here. Nobody is there for us. She just wants to be with her family,” the little girl said. “It’s not fair. My mother is no criminal. My mother is a great woman.”

Santiago’s niece Naomi Santiago, 25, thanked those who rallied around the woman to halt her deportation and give them a “miracle.”

“We’re feeling happy because the deportation has been stopped. We want her freed. We want to thank everybody for the help they’ve given to our family,” she told The News.

“We had hope. We haven’t lost faith. We were hoping for a miracle and this is one. She was almost on her way to Guatemala; now she’s on her way back from Louisiana.”

Melissa Chua, an attorney and director of the Immigrant Protection division at New York Legal Assistance Group, told The News, “Earlier today Alma had been moved from the detention center in New Jersey. We filed an emergency request to halt her from being removed from the United States so her claims can be fully heard.”

Attorney Danielle Tarantolo, co-director of NYLAG, said that a court hearing will be held next week “at which we’ll have a more full opportunity to present her claims to stop her removal.”

Asked if Santiago would be permitted to return to New York, Chua explained, “It wasn’t covered by the court order, but we hope she will be back,

“We wanted to make sure she has the ability and opportunity to assert her claims and be heard by the court. We will keep fighting for her to be heard and stay with her family in the United States.”

A case before the Supreme Court, Pereira v. Sessions, highlights how thousands of people like Santiago with removal orders against them weren’t adequately notified of their scheduled court appearances, her lawyers said.

Originally published in the New York Daily News on June 25, 2019

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