CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – U.S. immigration authorities have suspended the deportation of a Mexican woman who entered the country illegally 12 years ago and is the mother of three U.S. citizen children, a move taken after activists launched a campaign and sought the help of Sen. Kay Hagan.
Maria Juana Perez Santiago, a resident of North Carolina who had been set to be deported on Dec. 27, will be allowed to remain in the country another year while her case is reopened and efforts are pursued to have her deportation case permanently closed, Viridiana Martinez, founder of the NC Dream Team organization, said on Friday.
Martinez confirmed that a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office in Atlanta authorized the relief from deportation and said the woman must appear at the ICE office in Charlotte next week.
Perez Santiago, 32, first crossed the border in 2000 in search of a better life for her family and was detained and deported back to her home country.
She managed to return to the United States that same year and settle in North Carolina, where she lived undetected until her arrest on Dec. 22, 2010, for driving without a license.
“We’re very happy because the campaign of phone calls and petitions to prevent the family’s separation worked, and now they really are going to enjoy a Merry Christmas,” Martinez said.
Perez Santiago and two of her children, 9-year-old Nayeli and 7-year-old Blanca, both of whom have health problems, spent more than five hours Thursday at one of Sen. Hagan’s offices in Greensboro along with a group of young activists in a bid to enlist her support.
Two NC Dream Team members, Elisa Benitez and Cinthia Marroquin, were arrested by Greensboro police officers for refusing to leave the office while awaiting a response from the Democratic lawmaker, although they were released hours later.
“Hagan didn’t help at all and it was just her office staff that placed a call to ask about the mother’s case. That’s normal. What we were looking for was personal assistance from the senator, which we didn’t get,” Martinez said.
In a statement released in response to the request for assistance, Hagan’s office said its policy is not to “comment on any individual constituent case,” adding that “in general, Sen. Hagan supports prioritizing the use of the federal government’s limited resources on those individuals who pose a risk to national security or public safety.”
The NC Dream Team’s efforts have succeeded in blocking the deportation of three undocumented immigrants in North Carolina this month alone.