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Mom released from immigration custody says system is broken

February 14, 2018

Lilian Calderon, left, and her husband, Luis Gordillo, speak at the office of the American Civil Liberties Union in Providence, R.I., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released 30-year-old Lilian Calderon on Tuesday after officials granted a stay of deportation while she seeks legal status. A federal judge barred her deportation last week after the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts filed suit. (AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island mother of two young children who was released this week after a month in immigration detention said Wednesday the system is broken and it’s too easy for people like her to fall into the cracks.

Lilian Calderon, 30, whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Guatemala at age 3, was released Tuesday after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials granted her a three-month stay of deportation until May 12. A federal judge in Boston barred her deportation last week after the American Civil Liberties Union sued.

At a news conference Wednesday, Calderon and her husband, Luis Gordillo, an American citizen, described the circumstances of her detention and the effect it had on their 2-year-old son, Noah, and 4-year-old daughter, Natalie.

Calderon had been ordered removed from the country in 2002, after her father’s bid for asylum failed when she was 15 years old, her lawyer said. She had applied to become a lawful permanent resident, and the couple went for a routine interview at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Johnston on Jan. 17 to discuss their marriage.

Calderon said that at the end of her portion of the interview, she was told everything was in order and her petition would be approved. Then she was told to wait. That’s when two agents came and told her she was being detained.

Calderon said she was shocked and confused at being taken into custody and wasn’t able to say goodbye to her husband. She ended up at the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Massachusetts.

She said her life had revolved around taking trips to the park with her children and going to work, but she suddenly found herself in jail being forced to watch videos on drugs and rape.

“All I could think of while I was there was, I can’t believe I’m sitting through a video of how not to get raped in prison, because just the other day, I was picking up our daughter from school and I was thinking, ‘OK, what are we going to do for winter so we can beat cabin fever?’” Calderon said.

Gordillo had to juggle work and child care solo and the children began seeing a psychologist to deal with the stress of their mother being away. Their father told them only that their mother was at work.

Her lawyers said she was following the process the government put in place to get her green card, and never should have been detained. Spokesmen for the Department of Homeland Security and ICE have said they don’t comment on pending litigation.

“It’s a broken system,” Calderon said. “If you fall into those cracks, you’re going to fall into a detention center.”

The ACLU said Calderon’s case was not over, and they are fighting on a number of fronts to keep her in the country and out of detention.

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