PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) – Fighting back tears, a Guatemalan woman spoke to reporters Wednesday about how her routine visit to an immigration office turned into a month-long detention.
“We never thought this would happen to us,” said Lilian Calderon. “They didn’t even let me say goodbye.”
Calderon entered the United States with her parents when she was 3 years old. Almost three decades later, she married a U.S. citizen and had two kids. All that was left was to formally apply for citizenship – but as she attempted to do so, the government detained her for removal.
Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Calderon in January while she visited the Providence, Rhode Island, office for the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services with her husband.
Under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, ICE officials agreed to release Calderon on a motion from her attorneys. She still faces removal proceedings, but she will be reunited with her family until then.
She told reporters Wednesday that she also struck by how many other women she met in detention who had no idea what was in store.
“It was moms and sisters. There were even some grandmothers,” she said. “We’re all in there because we tried to go through the process.”
During the month-long ordeal, Calderon said she didn’t know how to contact an attorney or when she would face a hearing.
Rhode Island ACLU’s executive director argued that Calderon is just a part of a larger trend in immigration enforcement targeting nonviolent individuals.
“We are dealing with a federal government that is acting to inflict pain and sorrow on the immigrant community for no good reason,” the ACLU’s Steven Brown said.
A spokesperson from U.S. Customs and Immigration Services did not respond to a email seeking comment.