Judge Reopens Case, Halts Deportation Order for 11-Year-Old Girl

Laura Maradiaga-Alvarado, who immigrated with her family from El Salvador, was given a deportation order in Houston on March 12

Photo: Unsplash/@jeremydorrough

Photo: Unsplash/@jeremydorrough

Laura Maradiaga-Alvarado, who immigrated with her family from El Salvador, was given a deportation order in Houston on March 12. She is 11 years old and was the only one of her family to be ordered to deport. The case quickly sparked outcries on social media and she has now been granted a temporary reprieve.

A judge ordered a new hearing for on May 20 in response to a request from her attorney, Silvia Mintz, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

“The fact the case has been reopened so quickly shows the willingness of the court to rectify the clerical mistake that happened,” Mintz told NBC News.

The government shutdown caused a hearing scheduled for February for Laura, her mother, Dora Alvarado, and 15-year-old sister Katherine Maradiaga to be delayed.

They were at the court for the rescheduled hearing March 12, but the family was told that Laura’s name was not on the docket. The subsequent deportation order incorrectly stated that Laura wasn’t there and no good reason was given.

The family eventually got in touch with the immigration advocacy group FIEL Houston who has since raised more than $13K to help the family.

Courtesy of FIEL Houston

No official reason was given for the error but Mintz believes it’s a result of overworked and short-staffed courts.

“The clerks don’t do it with ill intention,” Mintz said. “They’re just overworked. The system is broken. There is need for more judges, more staff. More than a wall, we need resources for the immigration courts.”

Laura and her family are seeking asylum in the U.S. after their father and other members of their immediate family were killed in El Salvador.

Laura’s deportation order  prompted a series of angry tweets from Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo who said the government has failed to address the problem or effectively work on comprehensive immigration reform.

The 34-day government shutdown that began Dec. 21, 2018 was the longest in U.S. history and only worsened the backlog of cases.

“It’s understandable because thousands of cases had to be rescheduled, so of course mistakes were going to happen,” Mintz said. “But this shows how a mistake, ill-intentioned or not, can cause devastation in a family and cause separation of a family.”

Cesar Espinosa, a spokesman for FIEL Houston, stated that attorneys have been contacting the group to share their own experiences with court mistakes.


Courtesy of FIEL Houston

Amber Gracia, an attorney with Naimeh Salem & Associates in Houston, told NBC News she’s seen a rise in court errors since the start of the Trump administration.

Pending immigration court cases in the U.S. is at an all-time high with more than 855,000, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonprofit data research center at Syracuse University.

In Texas, the Houston area—where the Maradiaga-Alvarado family has been living since they came to the U.S. in October of 2018—has the highest backlog with more than 54,000 pending cases.

“Broken immigration policies and systems impact safety across the nation,” Acevedo told Time. “The people that are being impacted are real human beings. They’re real people.”

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