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 Sunday, 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.’”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to discuss the specifics of Cortez-Martinez’s case, citing restrictions in the Privacy Act, but a spokesman said the agency had wide latitude to refuse entry to non-citizens for violating hundreds of laws documented by dozens of agencies.
“[A]pplicants for admission bear the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible to enter the U.S.,” CBP spokesman Dan Hetlage wrote in an email to HuffPost. “In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the applicant must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility.”
With the deportation, Cortez-Martinez loses a life that took her 17 years to build. A nursing assistant who worked in northern Indiana, outside Chicago, Cortez-Martinez has three U.S.-born children. Her oldest is 11, while the youngest is an infant who had still been nursing when Cortez-Martinez was stopped at the airport.
Cortez-Martinez’s husband is also a DACA recipient who faces travel restrictions.
Under U.S. law, people who have been slapped with a deportation order are barred from returning to the country for 10 years.
“There’s no legal remedy for her under current immigration law,” Ruiz-Velasco said. “Now that she’s been removed, she’s not eligible for DACA anymore.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said Cortez-Martinez returned to the U.S. on Monday. She arrived Sunday night.
Also on HuffPost: