After a long and highly publicized struggle to remain in the U.S., Wendy Fernandez was removed from the country Friday morning.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Durham, said in an emailed statement, “I’m deeply saddened by the news of Wendy Miranda-Fernandez’s removal from the country this morning. Ms. Miranda-Fernandez did not have a criminal record and did not pose a threat to national security or the Durham community that she called home. She was not one of the gang members or violent criminals that President Trump promised to target and deport once in office.”
Butterfiled had been in contact with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials over the past several weeks and had attempted to stall or stop the deportation of Fernandez.
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“At the age of 14, Ms. Miranda-Fernandez was an eyewitness to a murder by one of the world’s deadliest gangs. After witnessing the murder, she and her family received repeated death threats, forcing her to flee to the United States in search of sanctuary,” Butterfield wrote, referring to the international criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13. “Her removal today sends her back into the same violence that she fled. Ms. Miranda-Fernandez’s case is a truly unfortunate example of what is now possible under the Trump Administration’s immigration enforcement policies.”
Butterfield’s spokeswoman, Meaghan Lynch, said Butterfield and his office received official notice from ICE shortly before 10:30 a.m. Friday that Fernandez had been deported.
The activist organization Alerta Migratoria NC announced in an emailed news release shortly before midnight Thursday that ICE had scheduled Fernandez for deportation at 8:05 a.m. Friday.
Alerta Migratoria NC is a self-described supporter of undocumented immigrants and refugees.
Fernandez had sought asylum in the U.S. for years since her arrival in the U.S. from El Salvador at age 14 in 2008, but her appeals were repeatedly denied.
Fernandez, who has been in detention in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in LaSalle, Louisiana for weeks, had received word Monday that ICE had granted her permission to marry her fiancé, Robert Paulino.
Friday morning before Paulino learned of Fernandez’s removal, he was still hopeing for a miracle. Around 10 a.m. Friday he said, “I don’t know if she’s still here or not. We don’t know where she is. I think in processing. She going though processing, I think, but I don’t know for sure.”
At 2 p.m. Friday, Paulino told The Herald-Sun that his fiancée was back in El Salvador. Fernandez sent a Facebook message to Paulino after the plane carrying her had landed on the Central American nation’s tarmac.
Upon reading the Facebook message, Paulino called Fernandez immediately. He said, “She’s with another girl who was deported, too, and I think they are going to stay together for right now.”
Paulino said Fernandez’s mother had contacted a cousin still living in El Salvador to inquiry about lodgings for her daughter. Fernandez is reportedly going to stay in that cousin’s home at least for a while.
“Yeah, we just had to call her cousin and get her picked up form the airport and somewhere to go,” Paulino said. “Figuring that out is the most important thing right now.”
Paulino and Fernandez have been awaiting the necessary paperwork for them to marry, but had not obtained a marriage license before Fernandez’s deportation.
Paulino said that he’d planned to go to Louisiana next week for a tentatively planned ceremony.
It’s unclear if a marriage to Paulino would have helped Fernandez remain in the U.S.. ICE protocol mandates: “The marriage may have no effect on regular or scheduled processing action in a detainee’s legal case. Specifically, it may neither interrupt nor stay any hearing, transfer to another facility or removal from the United States.”
While advocating for her release, Alerta Migratoria NC has relied heavily on Fernandez’s and Paulino’s engagement to attract media attention.
A federal Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denied Fernandez permanent asylum on June 16, 2014, apparently rejecting Miranda-Fernandez’s argument that she would be killed by members of the international criminal gang MS-13 in retribution for her brother’s refusal to join that gang.
Fernandez says she saw MS-13 members shoot and kill someone in an apparent attack targeting her brother while she was living in Barrio El Calvario, El Salvador. Her brother was not hurt in the attack.
She fled to the U.S. in 2008 and, as an unaccompanied minor, was allowed to stay while her asylum application was considered.
She was granted stays of removal in 2014, 2015 and 2016. At her last check-in on March 22 she was detained and then moved to Irwin County Detention Facility in Georgia to await deportation. She was subsequently transferred to the LaSalle Detention Facility.
On May 17, Fernandez and her supporters were informed of her imminent deportation and Butterfield intervened on her behalf, successfully delaying her removal.
ICE personnel informed Butterfield that Fernandez would not be removed from U.S. before Friday, May 26, said Lynch, his spokeswoman. ICE allowed more time for the BIA to consider a motion filed by Nardine Guirguis, Fernandez’s attorney, to reopen her client’s case.
However, “ICE can decide to remove someone, with a removal order, whenever they want to,” said immigration attorney Beckie Moriello, based in Raleigh with the National Immigration Project.
“Through that work, my staff and I were able to delay Ms. Miranda-Fernandez’s removal for several weeks in the hope that her motion before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) could be fully considered,” Butterfield wrote.
It is unclear if Friday’s deportation renders her motion moot.