Robert Paulino, a 21-year-old waiter from North Carolina, is out of time and out of ideas.
After twice trying and failing to marry his high school sweetheart, 23-year-old Wendy Miranda, Paulino got word this morning that his bride-to-be has been deported back to El Salvador, a country she fled as a teenager to escape death threats after witnessing a murder by the ruthless MS-13 street gang, or Salvatrucha.
Paulino, a U.S. citizen, tried to marry Miranda twice this month in a heartbreaking bid to save his long-time girlfriend from deportation. He first tried on May 5 at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, only to find out she had been moved overnight to another ICE detention center in Louisiana. So Paulino went to Louisiana and tried again, but was blocked by the courthouse because he didn't have his fiance's original ID, which was in the possession of ICE.
Now Paulino faces the challenge of how to save his girlfriend from an entirely different set of circumstances in a dangerous and foreign land.
"I have no idea what I'm going to do," Paulino told Univision News in phone interview this morning from Durham, North Carolina. "We have to find a place for her to stay. I guess I'll have to go there; it's not safe."
For those who fought hard to save Miranda from deportation, this morning's news of her deportation was devastating.
North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who intervened several times on Miranda's behalf, said he was "deeply saddened" by the news of her removal.
"[Miranda] did not have a criminal record and did not pose a threat to national security or the Durham community that she called home. She was not one of the gang members or violent criminals that President Trump promised to target and deport once in office," Congressman Butterfield told Univision News in a statement. "Her removal today sends her back into the same violence that she fled."
Butterfield also challenges ICE's claim that Miranda was removed "after receiving all appropriate legal process before the federal immigration courts." He says Mirada's motion to reopen her asylum case, filed before the Board of Immigration Appeals, was still pending at the time of her deportation. "Her removal, despite not having the opportunity to exhaust all her legal options, is extremely disheartening," the congressman said.
Butterfield, a Democrat, says Miranda's case is indicative of a much larger problem in this country right now. He calls it "a truly unfortunate example of what is now possible under the Trump administration's immigration enforcement policies."
Trump has promised to target MS-13 gang members and remove dangerous criminals from the U.S. But as Miranda's case shows, too often the government gets it backwards by deporting innocent people into the hands of criminals.
It's also unclear how Miranda's deportation makes the U.S. a safer place, despite ICE's statement today that it "continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security."
Paulino, meanwhile, says he and Miranda had talked about getting her out of El Salvador to Mexico or the Dominican Republic in the event she got deported. But until today, they were entirely focused on their Plan A to halt the deportation, so Plan B hasn't entirely taken shape yet.
"I don't know," a flustered Paulino said over the phone. Then, after a long pause, "I don't know."