When Luciana Micaela Casiano Velez came to the United States from Uruguay with her parents under a visa waiver program, she was 11 years old. Now 27 and a mother of five American children, Casiano Velez is facing deportation by mid-September.
The Hookset, New Hampshire resident told WGBH News that she was told last week that immigration officials informed her that she had to leave the country. The circumstances of her sudden order of deportation has the American Association of Immigration Lawyers up in arms. But upon further investigation, WGBH News found that this story is more nuanced.
According to Casiano Velez, she arrived at the Social Security office in Manchester, New Hampshire, for a scheduled appointment on Monday, Aug. 21 with all of her children. The oldest two are 9 and 5 years old. She also has 3-year-old twins and a 5-month-old baby. She was applying for assistance for her oldest, who suffers chronic asthma. His father — her ex — is disabled. Part of his Social Security benefits go to child support. The process seemed routine.
They asked for her son’s information before a clerk asked her for more identification and disappeared behind closed doors, Casiano Velez said.
“We waited there for about 20 minutes,” she said.
Casiano Velez — kids in tow — then went into an office with Social Security officials. But something totally unexpected happened next.
“We walked out, immigration was there," she said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents placed her in custody. Casiano Velez says they were waiting for her at the Social Security office. According to her lawyers, ICE demanded to know where in the U.S. her parents currently live. She said she told them that she didn’t know. After several hours in ICE custody, she was allowed to go home. ICE agents ordered her to return Aug. 28 with a passport and plane ticket to her native Uruguay. They also made her wear an electronic bracelet. That is when, she said, her 9-year-old son suffered an asthma attack.
“I had to bring him to the hospital. It was awful," Casiano Velez said.
ICE was not available to comment by WGBH News’ deadline for our radio story. Since then, agency spokesman Shawn Neudaurer sent a written statement alleging that “she presented false identification documents to Social Security administration officials,” a federal crime.
Undocumented since she was 11, Casiano Velez said she doesn't know how ICE officials knew she'd be at the Social Security office. But she did not disclose to WGBH News that ICE was alleging that the identification she used at the Social Security office was a fake green card.
Social Security officials called ICE, which quickly determined that Casiano Velez has been in the country undocumented since 2002. But Susan Church, a Cambridge-based attorney and former head of the New England Chapter of The American Association of Immigration Lawyers, said Casiano Velez’s possible deportation to Uruguay, under the circumstances, still strikes her as egregious.
“This is a woman with five U.S. citizen children, some who have serious health problems, who was applying for the lawful benefits that the law entitles her to," Church said. "And it’s a deliberate attempt by this administration to scare people into the shadows, so that they never come out again.”
Casiano Velez’s attorney, Zoila Gomez, has filed for an adjustment of status for her client based on her marriage to a U.S. citizen and the hardship that would result in separating a mother from her children. She worries that her current husband, Rolando Casiano, an American citizen, would have to take care of all five kids on his own if she’s deported.
"I’m feeling nervous. I feel like if I leave, it’s going to be so shocking for my kids," Casiano Velez said. "I don’t ... I don’t even know what to think anymore. I’m in a situation right now where I have to do whatever it takes for me to be here with my family. Like, I’m desperate right now. Like, every night I walk around my house, I go to my kids’ room and I look at my kids and I pray to God that they find a way that I can actually stay here for them."
Neudaurer said in the statement Casiano Velez “overstayed her lawful visit by 15 years.” But he also pointed out that she can still file a stay of deportation to try to work out this difficult situation. Casiano Velez — who sounds more like someone from Southie than from Uruguay — says she would not know what to do if deported.
"I don’t know nothing about Uruguay," she said. "See, I don’t have nobody there. My whole life was here. Like, my Spanish is OK, but it’s not a great Spanish either. There’s nothing for me in Uruguay. Nothing waits for me over there. My whole life is here."
Gomez has filed for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status for Casiano Velez, whose arrival to the U.S. in 2002 qualifies her for the program. She has not completed high school, but is now enrolled in a GED program. She is protected from deportation while her application is pending, and, at least by law, should be allowed to remain in the country if granted protections under DACA.
Editor’s note: This article was posted after WGBH News received a statement from ICE officials about the status of Casiano Velez’s case.