(This article has been changed to reflect the affiliation of immigration attorney Beckie Moriello and to indicate she said that marriage is a “discretionary” factor.)
Durham The activist organization Alerta Migratoria NC announced in an emailed news release shortly before midnight Thursday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has scheduled Riverside High School graduate Wendy Miranda Fernandez for deportation at 8:05 a.m. Friday, May 26.
Alerta Migratoria NC is a self-described supporter of undocumented immigrants and refugees.
Fernandez, 23, has been seeking 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 have been 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.
“We got a call today saying that we can get married,” Paulino said Monday. “Now, we have to apply for Wendy to receive more documents.”
Paulino and Fernandez have been awaiting the necessary paperwork 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 said it doesn’t play any part in wedding plans — including “but not limited to” blood tests, obtaining a marriage license or retaining an official to perform the marriage ceremony.
While advocating for her release, Alerta Migratoria NC has relied heavily on Fernandez's and Paulino's engagement to attract media attention.
It's not clear what a marriage between Fernandez and Paulino would accomplish, if anything, for Fernandez's hope of freedom and remaining stateside.
“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. “We deport spouses of U.S. citizens all the time. However, it is a very strong discretionary factor. 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 by members of the international criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as 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 already granted 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.
On May 17, Fernandez and her supporters were informed of her imminent deportation and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., 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 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.
This is a developing story that will be updated throughout Friday.