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Virginia Mother Honored as Deportation to El Salvador Looms

A Virginia woman who was put into deportation proceedings after she went to a regular check-in with immigration officials last month may be deported on Tuesday -- as an organization in the D.C. area honors her for her bravery.

Liliana Cruz Mendez, 30, is being detained in Louisiana and is expecting to be deported to El Salvador at any time.

The CASA will recognize Cruz Mendez in an event Tuesday night.

"She's an extraordinary human being," the group's executive director, Gustavo Torres, said. "She was fighting as a member of CASA for comprehensive immigration reform."

The Falls Church resident who fled violence in her home country is not doing well, her cousin Yanira Zabala said.

"Her heart is completely broken to be separated from her family," Zabala said in Spanish, through an interpreter.

For nearly a month, she has been separated from her husband and two U.S.-born children, an 11-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.

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"They really have been destroyed by what has happened," Zabala said about the family.

CASA officials said Cruz Mendez entered the U.S. illegally and skipped an appearance in immigration court. That triggered an "in absentia" deportation order against her, according to her attorney Nick Katz.

Cruz Mendez stayed off immigration officials' radar until she was stopped by police in 2013 for a broken taillight, and was convicted in 2014 of driving without a license, CASA said.

She qualified for stays of deportation in 2014 and 2015. Then, she was arrested last month when she went to her regular check-in with immigration authorities.

CASA said she had no other criminal record, and was employed at a restaurant, with a federal work permit.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe pardoned the driving offense last month, saying it hoped it would prevent her deportation. The governor said he wanted to send a "clear message that tearing this family apart will not make our Commonwealth or our country safer."

Immigration arrests have soared since Trump signed executive orders on Jan. 22 to boost deportations. U.S. immigration arrests increased nearly 40 percent in early 2017 as newly emboldened agents detained more than 40,000 people suspected of being in the country illegally. More than one in four had no criminal convictions.

CASA will continue working to keep immigrant families from being separated because of deportation, Torres said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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