Durham County

ICE has granted Wendy Fernandez permission to marry her U.S. citizen fiancé

Wendy Noemi Miranda-Fernandez, a Durham resident originally from El Salvador.
Wendy Noemi Miranda-Fernandez, a Durham resident originally from El Salvador.

Wendy Fernandez, a Riverside High School graduate detained in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in LaSalle, Louisiana, received word Monday that ICE had granted her permission to marry her fiancé, Robert Paulino.

“We got a call today saying that we can get married,” Paulino said. “Now, we have to apply for Wendy to receive more documents.”

Now that the couple has been granted permission, Paulino and Fernandez must await necessary paperwork needed for them to marry, such as a marriage license.

ICE protocol states that once a detainee's request for marriage is approved, the detainee or their representatives must make all of the marriage's arrangements themselves. ICE is not going to play, any part of whatsoever as, wedding planner — including “but not limited to” blood tests, obtaining the marriage license and retaining an official to perform the marriage ceremony.

When advocating for her release, the activist group Alerta Migratoria NC has relied heavily on Fernandez's and Paulino's engagement to attracted media attention.

An Alerta Migratoria press release on May 17 read, “Robert is, currently, in Louisiana and devastated at permanently losing his sweetheart.”

But it's not immediately clear what a marriage between Fernandez and Paulino would accomplish for Fernandez's hope of freedom and remaining stateside.

Fernandez's attorney, Nardine Guirguis, did not immediately respond Monday to inquiries on the possible affect of Fernandez's getting married.

“If she does get married to her U.S. citizen partner, then her ability to stay to in U.S. is definitely not automatic,” said immigration attorney Beckie Moriello, based in Raleigh with the National Immigration Project. “We deport spouses of U.S. citizens all the time. However, it is a very strong discriminatory factor,” Moriello said. “When you get married after you're in removal proceedings, your burden is even higher in proving that it is a legitimate relationship.”

ICE protocol states, “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.”

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 my members of MS-13 in retribution for her brother’s refusal to join the gang.

She was granted three stays of removal in 2014, 2015 and 2016. At her last check-in on March 22 she was detained, then moved to Irwin County Detention Facility in Georgia to await deportation and subsequently transferred to the LaSalle Detention Facility.

Last Wednesday, May 17, Fernandez and her supporters were informed of her imminent deportation and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., intervened on Fernandez's behave, successfully delaying her removal.

ICE personnel informed the congressman that Fernandez would not be removed from U.S. soil before Friday, May 26, said Meaghan Lynch, spokeswoman for Rep. Butterfield. 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,” Moriello said.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks