Courtesy of NYLAG
ICE detainee Alma Centeno-Santiago with her son Angel and daughter Amy. Both children are U.S. citizens.

The deportation of a pregnant mother of two from Queens Village is on hold after she was granted a temporary stay Tuesday.

Alma Centeno-Santiago, 34, was on the verge of being sent back to her native Guatemala after ICE transferred her from a New Jersey detention center to one in Louisiana until her lawyers secured a delay.

Centeno-Santiago’s legal team filed an emergency request in the Southern District Court of New York to prevent her deportation and the court granted a temporary restraining order halting her removal from the United States. The ruling will give Centeno-Santiago an opportunity to fully assert her claims when the court conducts further proceeding next week.

“We will continue to fight for Alma’s right to be heard and her right to remain with her U.S. citizen children,” New York Legal Assistance Group Attorney Melissa Chua said.

Centeno-Santiago legal odyssey began in April when she was arrested by ICE agents while appearing at a Queens Family Court hearing in Jamaica over the custody of her children with the children’s father. Centeno-Santiago held at the Bergen County Detention Facility in New Jersey for nearly three months.

On Tuesday, June 25, the Board of Immigration Appeals denied Centeno-Santiago’s Emergency Stay of Removal and she was flown to Louisiana with her deportation imminent. That’s when Jodi Ziesemer, NYLAG’s Director of Immigrant Protection made a defiant declaration.

“The fight is not over; a team of lawyers at NYLAG is in the Southern District Court of New York right now to file an action to prevent ICE from deporting Alma tomorrow morning,” Ziesemer said. “Alma’s case illustrates the heartless nature of new ICE policies to detain pregnant women and deport them away from their families. Alma advocated for herself and her unborn child and instead of being met with compassion and basic care, ICE isolated her, denied her proper medical care and was indifferent to her suffering and the suffering of her family, which includes two U.S.-born children who will be left to deal with the trauma of not having their mother in their life.”

To make matters worse, Centeno-Santiago was experiencing a difficult pregnancy, according to her family, and was having trouble getting proper medical attention after the detention facility was placed under quarantine due to an outbreak of the mumps at the center.

An ICE spokeswoman said that all detainees receive necessary and appropriate health service, food and care. 

“Alma Centeno-Santiago is an illegally present Guatemalan national who has two criminal convictions in the United States stemming for arrests in September 2018 and April 2019,” the ICE spokeswoman said. “A detainer was lodged with local authorities at the time of both arrests; however, local law enforcement did not honor the detainer and released her on both occasions without notification to ICE.”

An immigration judge ordered Centeno-Santiago to be deported last December after she failed to appear for immigration court proceedings. Ziesemer argued that her client was not properly notified of her scheduled court appearances.

Centeno-Santiago fled Guatemala at the age of 18, and had a full-time job at a restaurant in Jamaica until ICE agents arrested her.

“Alma has been present in the U.S. since 2004 and has two U.S. citizen children ages 11 and 3 who will lose their mother and caretaker,” the NYLAG spokesman said. “She is not a risk to the community. Alma did not appear for her immigration court hearing in 2004 as she was never properly informed of the date and time of her hearing, an issue that the Supreme Court has recognized and criticized immigration authorities for recently. Once she learned about her immigration case, Alma attempted to have her case reopened so that she could appear in immigration court, but ICE continues to detain her.”

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