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ICE to deport young witness to gang murder in El Salvador ... on her wedding day

Wendy Miranda originally came to the United States in 2008 after witnessing a gang murder in El Salvador. She filed an asylum request, which was denied. Her life is in serious danger if she returns to El Salvador, lawyer says.
4 May 2017 – 06:13 PM EDT
Wendy Miranda and Roberto Paulino were due to be married, until ICE decided to deport Miranda. Crédito: Courtesy of the Paulino family

Robert Paulino received the phone call Thursday morning, several hours before he was scheduled to get married.

The unknown female voice on the other end of the line identified herself as a friend and cellmate of his fiancé, Wendy Miranda, who until Thursday morning was being held at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia.

The woman gave Paulino, a 21-year-old U.S. citizen, the bad news: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents had taken his bride from her cell at 3 a.m. and whisked her off to parts unknown to await deportation to El Salvador.

Miranda originally came to the United States in 2008 after witnessing a gang murder in her neighborhood. She filed an asylum request and went to live with her mother in Durham, North Carolina, where she met Paulino in high school.

Miranda's asylum request was eventually denied in August 2016, and she was issued a deportation order. She continued to fight removal by filing a series of stays, but was taken into custody March 22.

With the clock ticking down the final hours before Miranda's deportation flight leaves for El Salvador on Friday morning, Paulino is growing increasingly despondent about the woman he's been dating for the past six years.

"I can't eat. I can't sleep. I get sick just thinking about it," the grieving groom told Univision during a tearful phone interview from Atlanta. "Wendy doesn't even have any family in El Salvador. She doesn't have anywhere to go. And there's no way I can protect her there."

Miranda's mother, Sandra, also worries about what will happen to her daughter if she's sent back to the country she fled nine years ago.

"She doesn't have anywhere to live and nowhere to go," she said. "She's so scared to go back. She's a different person now."

Paulino spent Thursday trying to find out where his 23-year-old wife-to-be has been relocated. ICE agents, however, were not forthcoming.

An ICE spokesman told Univision Thursday afternoon that Miranda is still being detained in Georgia, while an ICE removal officer from the Atlanta Field Office reported that she's in Alexandria, Louisiana.

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took unlawfully present Salvadoran national Wendy Miranda into custody March 22 in Charlotte, N.C., after she received all appropriate process before the federal immigration courts," according to Bryan D. Cox, ICE's Southern Region Communications Director.

But the story doesn't end there, according to Miranda's immigration lawyer, Nardine Guirguis, who last week filed a motion to reopen Miranda's case along with an emergency stay based on a "material change of circumstances."

Guirguis says a recent and "substantial change in circumstances" — one that she wouldn't elaborate on — has led her to believe that Miranda's life is in serious danger if she returns to El Salvador and that deportation "could very possibly result in her death."

The lawyer's eleventh-hour effort to file an emergency asylum request and a reasonable fear interview have gone unanswered by ICE.

North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield is also intervening on Miranda's behalf, writing a letter to ICE on Thursday asking for a delay in her removal proceedings until she can "exhaust all legal options."

"Ms. Miranda does not have a criminal record and does not appear to be a threat to public safety or national security. To the contrary, prior to President Trump’s January 25, 2017, Executive Order and Secretary Kelly’s February 20, 2017, implementation memo, Ms. Miranda was not an enforcement priority and ICE granted Ms. Miranda three stays of removal in 2014, 2015, and 2016," Rep. Butterfield wrote.

But with the plane fueling, it's unclear whether that will be enough. For now Miranda, her family and her fiancé can only hope for a miracle before the deportation flight goes wheels up tomorrow morning.

"It's too tough. It's too much to handle," Paulino said between tears. "We need all the help we can get. It's horrible!"