DACA beneficiary Selene Saavedra Roman from Peru, who has lived in the US for twenty-five years and is a flight attendant for Mesa Airlines, was detained shortly after she landed in Houston on a return flight from Mexico in February. Saavedra Roman remained in custody for six weeks and was released last Friday, but advocates are pointing to her case as an example of how the Trump administration’s attempts to end DACA continue to confuse program beneficiaries, their families, government agencies, and private employers.
Saavedra Roman was detained upon landing at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and placed in immigration detention in Conroe, Texas. After she was detained, officials tried to revoke her DACA status. They considered her an “arriving alien,” which gave her fewer rights than she would have had before leaving the country. The flight attendant had placed Mexico and Canada on her “no fly” list “very intentionally” when she was hired by Mesa Airlines, according to her husband David Watkins, an American citizen whom she met while they were both in college at Texas A&M. Mesa Airlines erroneously reassured Saavedra Roman that she could fly to Mexico, but she was taken into custody anyway.
Under the Obama administration, DACA recipients could apply to travel outside the country, but when President Trump ended the program, such travel was canceled. While court injunctions have prevented the Trump administration from ending DACA for now, the ban on its recipients traveling outside the United States has not been lifted. In Saavedra Roman’s case, negotiations with immigration agencies lasted for six weeks before she was released. The release came after the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, fearing that the hearing process could stretch on indefinitely, sounded its own alarms publicly last Thursday night. This caused a series of social media outbursts in favor of Saavedra Roman’s case.
“Her case is basically the poster child for what happens when you leave [these] people in legal limbo,” said Saavedra Roman’s attorney, Belinda Arroyo, about the situation. Although Arroyo acknowledged that Saavedra Roman made a mistake by leaving without seeking the government’s permission, the attorney also stated that her client relied on her employer, Mesa Airlines, to determine the best course of action in the situation.
In a statement, Mesa Airlines Chairman and CEO Jonathan Ornstein, apologized and said he was asking authorities to drop any charges that stemmed from Saavedra Roman’s detention: “We are deeply sorry Selene and her husband have had to endure this situation. It is patently unfair for someone to be detained for six weeks over something that is nothing more than an administrative error and a misunderstanding.”