Pregnant Queens Village mother released from ICE custody, reunited with U.S. citizen children

Courtesy of NYLAG

A pregnant mother of two was back home in Queens Village on July 6 after her legal odyssey took an unexpected twist.

Alma Centeno-Santiago, 34, was released from a Louisiana ICE detention facility by the Department of Homeland Security and flown to JFK International Airport, where she was reunited with her U.S. citizen children, ages 3 and 11.

Centeno-Santiago was facing deportation to her home country of Guatemala until her legal team from the New York Legal Assistance Group was granted a Temporary Restraining Order preventing her removal until a hearing on July 23. Centeno-Santiago was detained by ICE agents outside of Queens Family Court in April and then fast-tracked to be deported while suffering from a difficult pregnancy.

“Alma’s case highlights how immigrants’ rights are too often violated. We argued that while in detention, Alma advocated for her health and that of her unborn child and, in retaliation, was placed into immediate deportation,” said Melissa Chua, associate director on NYLAG’s Immigration Protection Unit. “We also argued that Alma was denied due process of law because she had never had a chance to seek the immigration relief we believe she is entitled to. We are glad that Alma has been reunited with her family and can now get the necessary medical care for herself and her unborn child while we seek that relief.”

An immigration judge ordered Centeno-Santiago to be deported last December after she failed to appear for an immigration court proceeding but her lawyer argued that she had not been properly notified of her scheduled court appearance. Centeno-Santiago fled Guatemala at the age of 18, and had a full-time job at a restaurant in Jamaica until ICE agents detained her following a hearing over the custody of her children with her ex-partner.

“While in ICE custody, she experienced a medically difficult pregnancy. She advocated for herself and her unborn child because ICE was denying her proper food and medical care,” said Jodi Ziesemer, director of NYLAG’s ImmigrationProtection Unit. “However, instead of providing her proper nutrition and medical care, ICE isolated Alma, continued to deny her basic care, and was indifferent to her suffering and the suffering of her family. ICE routinely inflicts maltreatment and abuse on detained immigrants who have fled from violence and persecution in their home countries. But Alma and others like her are not ‘illegal’ or ‘criminal,’ and they deserve fair treatment. Alma is no risk to the community.”

QNS reached out to ICE and is awaiting a response. Meanwhile, Jennifer Pacheco, a close friend, spoke of the family’s ordeal.

“The last few months without Alma have been overwhelmingly sad and scary. We have lived a nightmare that every immigrant fears,” Pacheco said. “During this difficult time, our priority has been the well-being of her children who have missed their mother terribly. What she experienced in ICE detention was traumatic and we ask for privacy at this time so she can focus on healing and being with her kids. We hope that Alma’s case highlights that real people, real families with U.S. citizen children are being harmed by our immigration system.”

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