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Dallas-area mother's release from ICE custody called "New Year's miracle"

Rosa Moreno is reunited with her family
Rosa Moreno is reunited with her family
Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment/

A Dallas-area mother of two who was wrongly jailed for over a year by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has been released in what supporters are calling a “New Year’s miracle.” The case of Rosa Moreno is another shocking example of ICE’s failure to follow immigration law procedure. In Moreno's case, that failure had devastating effects on a local immigrant family.

Moreno had been jailed by ICE after she left the country to bury her two adult sons, innocent victims of Mexico’s drug cartel violence. Upon her return to America, her reentry made her the target of deportation, even though she qualified for a legal adjustment of status. After a year in jail in which she faced a permanent ban from the United States, she was released Monday night from a holding facility in El Paso. She was released under "prosecutorial discretion," which means ICE may continue to pursue deportation at any time.

Although she is undocumented, Rosa qualified for an adjustment of status, as she has lived continuously in the United States for more than ten years (she has lived here 19 years), has immediate family members who are American citizens, and has never been in trouble with the law. In cases where an undocumented immigrant has more than ten years of continuous residency in the United States, allowances are made for the immigrant to leave the country for as much as 60 days without losing their “continuous residency” qualification. After going to Mexico to bury her sons, Rosa’s situation meets this exemption, but the United States government failed to properly classify her situation, and she was detained. As she was accused of illegally reentering the United States, she faced a permanent ban from the country.

According to Ralph Isenberg of the Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment, the advocacy group assisting Moreno, the government failed to properly classify Moreno's residency status upon reentering the country, and she should never have charged and jailed in the first place. "The facts speak for themselves. This is an unconscionable act by ICE and an obvious mistake by the government. A woman in the United States should be permitted to bury her children."

As the main breadwinner for her family, Rosa’s imprisonment put them in dire straits. Her husband is no longer able to work after becoming permanently disabled, and their small ranch outside Dallas had fallen into disrepair. The family fell behind on mortgage payments, and had difficulties keeping utilities connected. Rosa’s 16-year-old daughter has a part-time job, the only source of income for the family.

Moreno’s case could have had a much different ending. A month ago, her family walked into the offices of The Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment in Dallas and asked for help. ICIE staff immediately began working on her case at no charge. ICIE staff worked feverishly with ICE officials in El Paso (where Rosa was being held), who finally agreed to release her in time for the New Year’s holiday. Isenberg has applauded the work of the El Paso office of ICE on many occasions, and notes their cooperation was instrumental in a favorable resolution in Moreno’s case. It was the type of cooperation he says he does not see from Dallas’ ICE personnel, where most of their work is focused. “We thank El Paso ICE for considering her circumstances. If only we had the El Paso ICE staff here in Dallas,” Isenberg wished. “But if that meant Dallas staff going to El Paso, God help El Paso!” Isenberg also notes the hard work of other organizations and individuals whose hard work, paired with ICIE’s forceful thinking, showed ICE officials the true seriousness of the situation.

Isenberg plans to continue to work with the Moreno family. Her first step in the legal process is to stop her potential removal from the United States. “It is my hope to file a motion to reopen her case. We will seek a cancellation of removal for Rosa, because she has earned it. We will work closely with the family to provide moral support over the separation her surviving children endured.”

If Rosa is granted a cancellation of removal, she would then be given legal permanent residency in the United States. In ten years, she can then begin the process to become an American citizen.

Victor Medina writes for Yahoo News and his political blog His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News and He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum. You can follow him on his blog, or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at Click here to receive a weekly email update from To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SUBSCRIBE link here or at the top of this page.

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