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The case of Emily Ruiz, the 4-year-old US citizen who was separated from her parents and returned to Guatemala, has been generating widespread media attention since it broke a couple of weeks ago. America’s Voice hosted a conference call today to discuss her story, featuring pro bono Ruiz family attorney David Sperling; Jeanne Butterfield, Special Counsel to the Raben Group; and Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. America’s Voice also livetweeted the call.
According to Sharry, the Ruiz case is a “travesty” and ICE is attempting to make “immigration status a qualifier for parental rights.”
Sperling began by reviewing the case’s background: Emily suffers from asthma and had been sent to Guatemala over the winter for her health. She was scheduled to return to Long Island earlier this month with her grandfather, who had a H2B visa which allowed him to come and go from the States as he pleased. When delays rerouted their plane to Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC, Emily’s grandfather was detained when Customs and Border Protection agents noticed that he had once entered the country without papers — twenty years ago. At that point, CBP decided to deport the grandfather and detain Emily because both of her parents are undocumented immigrants. Emily’s father, Leonel Ruiz, received the nightmare phone call in the middle of the night: not only would he not be picking Emily up at the airport in New York, as planned, but he was forbidden from reuniting with his daughter at all. His options: have CBP send her to a juvenile center in Virginia, or send her back to Guatemala with her grandfather. Afraid that she would be adopted by another family and he would never see his daughter again, he chose the latter.
Sperling, who will be traveling to Guatemala this week to bring Emily back himself, doesn’t understand how something like this could have happened in the first place.
There is no basis to deport a 4-year-old US citizen…this should never happen to any child, and certainly not to a U.S. citizen. What right did CBP have to detain a 4-year-old U.S. citizen and inquire into her parents’ legal status?