By Sandra Gomez-Aceves, Nicholas Rondinone and Christopher Keating
When Miriam Martinez-Lemus left violence-stricken Guatemala in 1992 for the United States, “there was no alternative.” After a stay of deportation was denied Monday afternoon, she defied Immigration and Customs Enforcement and instead of boarding a flight, she headed to her Stamford home. That was her only alternative.
“I am not hiding,” Martinez-Lemus told The Courant in a phone interview. “I am in my home, with my family, causing no harm.”
She is wearing a tracking bracelet issued by ICE, so there is no doubt about her whereabouts.
Early Monday Martinez-Lemus and her attorney, Glenn Formica, were armed with roughly 700 pages of supporting documents to present in court. It was a last-minute effort that they hoped would convince officials to allow her to remain in the United States, beside her family.
But as the afternoon came, the hopes shifted. The stay of deportation that would temporarily postpone Martinez-Lemus’ deportation order was denied. She was ordered to board the 3 p.m. flight she had previously booked to her native Guatemala, but she purposely missed it.
“My day has been full of emotions — both positive and negative,” Martinez-Lemus said. “But I feel stronger now because I am doing something to remain with my daughters.”
ICE remained firm in its decision to carry out the deportation.
“Miriam Martinez-Lemus is citizen of Guatemala,” said Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. “A federal immigration judge granted her voluntary departure in 2002, but she failed to leave the U.S. as instructed and that order automatically changed to a final order of removal.
“In a measure of discretion, ICE did not place her in custody, but entered her into an Alternatives to Detention program, and she has been checking in periodically at an ICE office. She was asked to provide proof she intends to leave the U.S., in compliance with the court’s order, which she has done. Should she fail to depart as instructed, she will be listed as an immigration fugitive and arrested when encountered, and then ICE will carry out her removal order.”
In other cases, undocumented immigrants whose stay of deportation requests have been denied have sought refuge in churches. Martinez-Lemus decided to remain in her home and “it did not cross my mind” to seek sanctuary in a church, she said.
“Miriam is going to do what she has done as she came — she is going to be lawful and abide by all conditions [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] places on her,” Formica, said. “We are saying to ICE, you know where she is. You want her, come and take her from her child.”
Now, Martinez-Lemus, her two daughters and her husband, will wait for ICE to knock on their door.
“It could be hours, to weeks, to months,” Sidd Sinha, an associate attorney at Formica Williams, said. “It depends on how much of a priority she is, and she obviously was, for [ICE] to deny her a stay.”
Formica said, “ICE, for whatever reason, sees this as a priority. They have said she cannot stay, and I am saying she cannot go.”
Since Martinez-Lemus’ case went public, a petition on MoveOn.org asking for her deportation order to be stopped has obtained more than 8,000 signatures. At her home Monday night, a member of the organization Building One Community, remained at Martinez-Lemus’ side.
In an afternoon press conference in New Haven, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged ICE to reconsider.
“I understand it’s complicated but I have to say the American people did not ask for what’s happening here to take place,” Malloy said. He said President Donald Trump promised only immigration action against what he called “bad hombres.”
“That is not the situation here,” Malloy said. “If it was the situation here, I wouldn’t be here. This is a very different set of circumstances.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he is working with Martinez-Lemus’ attorney to stop the deportation. He arrived at the press conference and hugged Martinez-Lemus.
“This persecution by ICE is reprehensible and irresponsible, “ Blumenthal said. “Miriam is the voice and the face of our resistance to a policy that cannot be countenanced or condoned. … Miriam should be given a chance to contest this order.”
Blumenthal and others said she has been living peacefully in the United States for 25 years and should not be deported.
He said he will bring the case directly to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE.
Martinez-Lemus has been checking in with immigration authorities since 2012, and has been granted stays of removal, according to her husband, Raphael Benavides.
“Besides the fact that she’s a human being, she’s a mother, she’s a wife. We’re a family,” he told The Courant over the weekend. “That’s what we’ve created. We wanted our children to grow up in a healthy environment.”
Not long after crossing the border at Nogales, Ariz., in 1992, Martinez-Lemus settled in Stamford, where she lives with Benavides and daughters — Brianna, 12, and Alison, 10. Both the children are U.S. citizens.
Brianna suffers from Type 1 diabetes, according to the family, and requires constant care and supervision.
Dr. Stuart Weinzimer, a professor of pediatrics at Yale, said Brianna’s juvenile diabetes is a serious condition that has been helped with Martinez-Lemus’ care.
“It is a life-threatening condition,” Weinzimer told reporters Monday. “It is a lot of risk if all that good care-taking is put in jeopardy.”
“Let us remember that Brianna is an American citizen, and she needs our help,” Malloy said. “I plead with ICE for sufficient time for other avenues to be explored.”
Joining the three dozen people rallying outside the federal building Monday were Hartord Mayor Luke Bronin and members of Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance. Jesus Morales Sanchez, a member of the group, said, “We are hoping for a Thanksgiving miracle that she will be able to stay home with her family.”