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Ruiz Family Lawyer Discusses the case of 4 year-old Emily, a U.S. citizen

Ruiz Family Lawyer Discusses the case of 4 year-old Emily, a U.S. citizen

Photo: Emily Ruiz

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The case of Emily Ruiz, the 4-year-old US citizen who was separated from her parents and returned to Guatemala, has been generating widespread media attention since it broke a couple of weeks ago.  America’s Voice hosted a conference call today to discuss her story, featuring pro bono Ruiz family attorney David Sperling; Jeanne Butterfield, Special Counsel to the Raben Group; and Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. America’s Voice also livetweeted the call.

According to Sharry, the Ruiz case is a “travesty” and ICE is attempting to make “immigration status a qualifier for parental rights.”

Sperling began by reviewing the case’s background: Emily suffers from asthma and had been sent to Guatemala over the winter for her health.  She was scheduled to return to Long Island earlier this month with her grandfather, who had a H2B visa which allowed him to come and go from the States as he pleased.  When delays rerouted their plane to Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC, Emily’s grandfather was detained when Customs and Border Protection agents noticed that he had once entered the country without papers—twenty years ago.  At that point, CBP decided to deport the grandfather and detain Emily because both of her parents are undocumented immigrants.  Emily’s father, Leonel Ruiz, received the nightmare phone call in the middle of the night: not only would he not be picking Emily up at the airport in New York, as planned, but he was forbidden from reuniting with his daughter at all.  His options: have CBP send her to a juvenile center in Virginia, or send her back to Guatemala with her grandfather.  Afraid that she would be adopted by another family and he would never see his daughter again, he chose the latter.

Sperling, who will be traveling to Guatemala this week to bring Emily back himself, doesn’t understand how something like this could have happened in the first place.

There is no basis to deport a 4-year-old US citizen…this should never happen to any child, and certainly not to a U.S. citizen.  What right did CBP have to detain a 4-year-old U.S. citizen and inquire into her parents’ legal status?

Jeanne Butterfield, Special Counsel for the Raben Group and former Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, followed with an explanation of the case’s consequences for the 4 million U.S. citizen children with at least one undocumented parent.

We need crystal clear guidelines regarding cases like these so that other US children are not treated in this way, and this sort of incident never happens again.

Emily’s best interest should be the goal.  If CBP were really concerned for the welfare of this child, they really had at least three other options [allowing Emily to take a connecting flight to Long Island, asking Leonel and his wife to pick her up in DC, or calling Child Protective Services].

This case calls attention to a very ugly political climate that exists around immigration, where the undocumented are treated as less than human because of their status, and their children are treated as less than citizens because of their parents.  It’s not reflective of American values or democracy.  It’s a sign of how very far in the wrong direction this political climate has gone.

Sharry ended the call by condemning the byzantine laws and case-by-case process that so many individuals and families must suffer in the absence of a coherent immigration policy:

On a case-by-case basis, it is very difficult for individuals and families to get relief under the current dysfunctional immigration system.  This case is yet another example of Congress’ failure to regulate immigration properly.  A real solution ultimately will come when Congress and the President pass reform that includes legalization.  There are 11 million undocumented immigrants like Emily’s parents in the US, with no real option for legal status because of Congressional inaction on CIR.