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“Families Not Felons?” DACA Recipient Deported After Obama Administration Refuses to Follow Its Own Stated Policy

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Earlier this week, the Obama Administration deported a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, despite the government earlier having approved her DACA application and granted her “advanced parole” request to travel to and from Mexico.  The case of Lesly Sophia Cortez-Martinez is a troubling example of the Obama Administration not living up to its own stated immigration enforcement policies, and one executive branch agency refusing to honor the stated communications and commitment of another executive branch agency.

As Huffington Post reports,

“Authorities in Chicago deported an undocumented woman to Mexico — even after she obtained permission to remain in the United States and travel to her native country, activists and her attorney say.

While immigration authorities insist Lesly Sophia Cortez-Martinez, 32, wasn’t eligible to re-enter the United States, her case highlights the tenuous nature of the deportation relief the Obama administration has extended to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants since 2012. Having lived in the U.S. since age 15, Cortez-Martinez was approved for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which shields many people who arrived in the country as minors from deportation.

She had been expelled twice before, in 1999 and again in 2004, but those removals hadn’t interfered with her DACA application, according to her lawyer, Mony Ruiz-Velasco.  Cortez-Martinez then applied last year for permission to visit her family in Mexico City. Though she remained undocumented, her request was approved through a process called ‘advance parole,’ which allows undocumented immigrants to visit their countries of origin and return for humanitarian reasons, among others. But when she returned to the U.S. on Monday, authorities stopped her in Chicago O’Hare International Airport, citing the 2004 deportation order, her lawyer said. By Tuesday, they had deported Cortez-Martinez back to Mexico.

Ruiz-Velasco emphasized that her client had been carrying documents showing that she had permission to return to the U.S. ‘When you get advance parole, you get two pieces of paper that say ‘advance parole’ on them,’ Ruiz-Velasco told The Huffington Post. ‘It was very reasonable for her to think, ‘If they’re approving this document, it must be ok to go.’’”

According to press reports, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), approved the request of Cortez-Martinez to travel to Mexico.  Upon arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport after flying back from Chicago, however, Cortes-Martinez was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) – another DHS agency.  While CBP claims that Cortez-Martinez was ineligible for advanced parole status due to a prior removal order from 2004, its fellow DHS agency had explicitly authorized her travel mere weeks before and Ms. Cortez-Martinez was not aware of her removal order.

As ThinkProgress reports:

“Cortez-Martinez insisted that she didn’t know about the old removal order, explaining that she went to Mexico for a death in the family and returned to the U.S. without documents … Cortez-Martinez has three U.S.-citizen children and doesn’t have a criminal record, two qualities that the Obama administration has asked immigration officials to consider before taking people into deportation proceedings.”

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “The right hand of DHS should know and honor what the left hand of DHS is doing.  We hear a lot about focusing on ‘felons, not families,’ yet here we have an egregious case of the exact opposite taking place.  What are other DACA and ‘advanced parole’ recipients supposed to think?”

Tramonte continued, “Instead of deporting Ms. Cortez-Martinez and ripping apart her family in the process, the Obama Administration should parole her back to the United States, honor their own stated policies, and figure out how it is that DHS can be working at direct cross-purposes from itself.”