Photo: Emily Ruiz, 4, is a legal US citizen, but was sent back to Guatemala
A four-year-old U.S.-born child is at the center of yet another immigration battle, and remains stuck in Central America as her parents fight to bring her back to New York.
Emily was staying in Guatemala with extended family because her parents were worried the New York winter would aggravate her asthma. She was on her way back with her grandfather when the plane they were on was diverted to Washington D.C. due to bad weather, and that is where the nightmare began. Emily’s grandfather, a Guatemalan traveling with a valid work visa, was told he would not be allowed to stay in the country due to an immigration infraction more than 20 years ago.
As this was happening in Dulles International Airport, Emily’s father Leonel Ruiz was waiting at Kennedy International Airport in New York. The plane had already been delayed for a few hours, but when it finally arrived he was worried to see that neither Emily nor her grandfather were on it. Several more hours when by before he was able to find out what happened.
What complicates the situation further is the fact that while Emily was born in the U.S., her parents are both undocumented immigrants from Guatemala.
What followed is where the story split in two. Customs and Border Protection officials said Luis was offered the chance to pick Emily up at the airport, but they claim he “elected to have her returned to Guatemala with her grandfather.” They added that they always strive “to reunite U.S. citizen children with their parents.”
Though Luis acknowledges that going to get Emily would have put him in danger of being deported he said he would have done it, but that he was never told he had that option. He said an agent told him over the telephone that he had two options. Emily could either enter the custody of the State of Virgina, or she cold return to Guatemala with her grandfather.
Worried that she would be put up for adoption once she entered state custody, Luis had her put on a place to head back to Guatemala.
“We were very worried,” said Ruiz. “My wife was crying and crying at what was happening.”
David M. Sperling, the family’s lawyer, said, “She was treated like a second-class citizen or worse. She’s a U.S. citizen, and she’s entitled to the same rights as any other U.S. citizen.”
Sperling is planning to travel to Guatemala to bring Emily back to her parents in Long Island next week.
In 1996, Ruiz came to the U.S. illegally from Guatemala, because, he said, “we were in a very situation in my country.” After settling in Long Island, he tended lawns, and eventually met fellow Guatemalan immigrant, Brenda Dubon. They married and had two children. Emily’s younger brother is three.
The Ruiz’s case is just one of many happening across the country. As state and federal governments argue over who has the right to enforce immigration laws, sparks are flying, and caught in the fire, are families like the Ruizes.