ICE Detained a Flight Attendant and DACA Recipient for 6 Weeks, All Because She Worked on a Flight to Mexico

Selene Saavedra Roman was taken into custody in a Houston airport.


Wikipedia/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

In February, Selene Saavedra Roman, a Texas-based flight attendant, took what should have been an uneventful work trip—a round-trip flight to Mexico and back. But when she landed in Houston, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained her and placed her in a detention center. She was released this past Friday after six weeks in custody.

Saavedra Roman is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, having come to the U.S. illegally when she was 3 years old. Otherwise known as a "Dreamer," she is among 700,000 others who arrived in the States as young children and who are temporarily protected from deportation.

Even still, when she accepted a job with the regional Mesa Airlines, it was because she thought they would not require her to travel internationally. Anxious over the complex web of immigration policies that affect Dreamers, she told the company that she preferred not to leave the continental U.S., according to The Washington Post.

In the past, DACA recipients have been able to apply to travel outside of the country, so long as they could show it was for humanitarian, educational, or employment purposes (and as long as they could come up with the $575 application fee). But those pleas now fall on deaf ears. New restrictions under the Trump administration forbid Dreamers from leaving and reentering the country under any circumstances.

Belinda Arroyo, Saavedra Roman's attorney, says that her client shouldn't have bypassed the government. But she adds that Saavedra Roman was unaware of the specific travel stipulations. After receiving notice of her Mexico flight, she voiced her general uneasiness with company superiors at Mesa Airlines, who incorrectly told her she had no reason to worry.

In that vein, Arroyo argues that Saavedra Roman is a "poster child" for the immigration system's ills, particularly with the confusing changes that have taken place since President Trump took office. "They've been lost in legal limbo, and it's getting quite ridiculous," she tells The Washington Post.

So ridiculous that neither employers nor DACA recipients are quite certain what the rules are. "It is patently unfair for someone to be detained for six weeks over something that is nothing more than an administrative error and a misunderstanding," Mesa Airlines CEO Jonathan Ornstein said in a statement.

"Basically the administrative error is that they told her she could travel," Arroyo told The Hill.

Although Saavedra Roman has since been released from detention, the threat of deportation still looms. Arroyo says that, while her client was still in custody, she was notified that ICE had asked the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if her DACA status could be rescinded.

Saavedra Roman is married to an American citizen who was already in the process of seeking a green card on her behalf when she was detained by ICE. They were reunited on Friday.

"I cried and hugged my husband and never wanted to let go," she said in a statement following her release. "I am thankful and grateful for the amazing people that came to fight for me, and it fills my heart. Thank you to everyone that has supported. I am just so happy to have my freedom back."