DACA recipient detained by ICE for 6 weeks after flying abroad for work

Employer assured her she would be able to come back to US

By Sarah Acosta - Reporter

A flight attendant with official Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals paperwork who's married to a U.S. citizen was locked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for six weeks after she flew to Mexico for work.

Selene Saavedra Roman, 28, was released just Friday afternoon. Her family said her employer, Mesa Airlines, assured the DACA recipient she could safely travel abroad.

“Every time I wake up, I'm stuck in a nightmare,” said David Watkins, Saavedra Roman’s husband.

For six weeks, Watkins and his parents have lived in a terrifying state of confusion as his wife was locked up at an ICE facility in Conroe, near Houston.

“When she came back into Houston, that's when she was stopped,” said David Watkins, Saavedra Roman’s father-in-law.

Saavedra Roman was born in Peru and moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old. Her family said she has been a DACA recipient since 2012 and her paperwork was valid through November of 2019.

After graduating from Texas A&M University two years ago, she married her husband.

Saavedra Roman’s family said she has paid taxes since 2012 and has a Social Security number. She is also halfway through her U.S. citizenship process.

Her family blames the airline. They said she questioned the airline several times about taking the flight.

“She had been told by more than two supervisors that she would be protected,” the elder Watkins said.

The family said that at first, they cooperated with ICE, thinking she would be released quickly.

“We cooperated every way we could,” the elder Watkins said. “(I) think that at some point, they would realize the silliness of this error. We filled out every document they asked for.”

For five of those six weeks, they kept quiet, fearing that if they took their story to social media, it would backfire, preventing Saavedra Roman from getting released. They said they truly thought they were on a path to getting her released.

Then Tuesday came. The family said they were told by ICE that Saavedra Roman’s DACA status would be revoked and she would be deported to Peru, a place where she hasn't lived since she was a toddler.

“It makes me acutely aware that there is still a lot of racism in our country,” the elder Watkins said.

The family then took the issue to social media, contacting everyone they could, including Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Within the last couple of days, after sharing their story on social media, it went viral, sparking a petition to free Saavedra Roman. Hillary Clinton even retweeted the story.

At 2 p.m. Friday, Saavedra Roman called her husband to tell him to pick her up.

“It was a shock,” said Meredith Hansen, Saavedra Roman’s mother-in-law. “It was like, ‘It worked.’”

Her family is still confused and upset with Mesa and is furious with ICE.

“It was an administrative mistake,” the elder Watkins said. “ICE took that mistake and turned it into a monstrous criminal event.”

The family is relieved she is coming home but is still hurting.

“My son and daughter-in-law are not going to get that six weeks back,” Hansen said.

Around 8:30 p.m. Friday, KSAT spoke with Saavedra Roman’s husband with her in the car on their drive back to their home in Bryan. He described their reunion.

“At first she cried. Then we hugged. I didn’t want to let go. To physically touch my wife after not being able to touch her for six weeks, that was a lot. Then I walked away to the bathroom, came back and then I cried. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster, but I’m happy she is finally coming home with me,” the younger Watkins said.

When asked what he would have done if ICE deported her, he said, “It’s a no-brainer, I would have gone with (her).”

Copyright 2019 by KSAT - All rights reserved.