PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — About 24 hours after she was reunited with her husband and young children, a Rhode Island woman on Wednesday was brought to tears as she described the experience of being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and held in jail for nearly a month.
Lilian Calderon was granted a 90-day stay of removal and released from ICE custody on Tuesday. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Rhode Island last week filed a petition in federal court seeking Calderon’s release, arguing that her detention violated her constitutional right to due process.
Calderon, 30, has lived in Rhode Island since she was brought to the United States from Guatemala at the age of three. She grew up in Providence and married Luis Gordillo, her high school sweetheart and an American citizen. The couple has a 4-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son.
In a news conference Wednesday at the ACLU headquarters in Providence, Calderon said it all started on Jan. 17 when she and her husband went to federal offices in Johnston to comply with the government and prove their marriage was valid.
She said ICE told the couple everything was in order, but then two agents entered and took her into custody. Calderon said she was unable to speak to her husband or lawyer until she was processed twice and brought to the Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston.
According to Calderon, she and the other women in ICE custody felt violated. She said they were forced to watch videos on drugs and domestic violence, as well as preventing rape in prison.
She said officers often asked her why she was there since she didn’t have a criminal record.
“All the officers would say to me, ‘Is there anything with drugs? Are you here because of drugs?'” Calderon recalled. “I’m like, ‘no! I’m not here because of drugs.’ And that’s the problem. Everyone thinks that when you get detained by ICE it’s because it’s either drugs or violence or a crime, like it has to be crime-related, if not, they’re not going to detain you. But it’s not true.”
Calderon said she was being held with other mothers and even grandmothers who shared a similar story.
“They say to me, ‘Well maybe I shouldn’t have gone through the system,'” Calderon said. “And I’m like, ‘no, because you’re trying to do the right thing. But it’s a broken system.”
John Mohan, a public affairs officer for the New England Region of ICE, released a statement Wednesday saying anyone found to be in violation of federal immigration laws is subject to arrest, regardless of criminal history.
“While ICE does focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security, no classes or categories of removable aliens are exempt from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of United States immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.
“Ms. Calderon Jimenez, has now been released from ICE custody; unfortunately however, as her case is still the subject of an ongoing judicial appeal (there was a petition filed on her behalf) ICE does not comment on pending judicial appeals.”
Calderon had applied for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), but it was denied because the government wasn’t satisfied with the amount of documentation, according to her attorney Martin Harris. Court documents state there wasn’t enough to prove that Calderon had been in the United States constantly since she arrived. Without a Social Security number, Harris noted, it’s hard for an undocumented immigrant to get a bank account and other things that would create a paper trail.
Calderon’s status will be re-evaluated when her stay of removal expires on May 12. Harris said the lawsuit opposing her deportation must still be resolved and it’s unclear if she could be arrested again once her stay expires.
Watch the full news conference with Calderon and the ACLU below: