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4-Year-Old Girl Sent to Guatemala in Immigration Dispute Returns to NY

Mar 30, 2011 – 12:03 PM
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Lisa Flam

Lisa Flam Contributor

A 4-year-old girl sent back to her family's native Guatemala in an immigration dispute earlier this month has returned home to New York, where she was reunited with her family early today.

Emily Ruiz, who hadn't seen her family in five months, was greeted with hugs from her mother at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, The New York Times reported.

"We are so happy that Emily has finally been reunited with her family in the United States, where she belongs," her parents' lawyer, David Sperling, told The Associated Press. Sperling accompanied Emily on the flight, the AP said.

The dispute began when Emily, an American citizen who had gone to Guatemala for the winter, was flying back to the U.S. on March 11 with her grandfather.

Emily Ruiz, left, 4, is seen in New York Tuesday night after flying first-class from Guatemala to the United States.
Emily Ruiz, left, is seen in New York Tuesday night after flying first class from Guatemala to the United States.
Their flight to New York was diverted to Dulles International Airport near Washington, where the grandfather was detained. He was traveling on a valid work visa but prevented from re-entering the U.S. because of an immigration infraction from 20 years earlier, according to news reports.

The girl's parents, who are illegal immigrants living on New York's Long Island, chose to have Emily sent back to Guatemala rather than pick her up, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said, possibly because of their immigration status, the AP reported.

"The parents were offered the chance to pick up the child but elected to have her return to Guatemala with her grandfather," U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Lloyd Easterling said in a statement, the AP said. The agency, he said, "strives to reunite U.S. citizen children with their parents."

The couple's lawyer, though, disputes that account.

"The CBP spokesman's statement is wrong," Sperling told the AP. "The parents were not given the option to be reunited."

In an interview with the Times last week, Emily's father, Leonel Ruiz, said he was never offered the choice to get Emily. Ruiz, who speaks little English, said an agent told him by phone in English that Emily could go back to Guatemala with her grandfather or enter the custody of the state of Virginia.

Worried she'd be put up for adoption in Virginia, the family opted for her to go to Guatemala.

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"We were very worried, and my wife was crying and crying at what was happening," Ruiz told the paper in an interview conducted in Spanish. He had been preparing to get Emily but wasn't afforded the opportunity. "If we had to go there, we would have gone there," he told the Times.

The case, which outraged some immigration lawyers and advocates, comes amid proposals that would end the automatic citizenship given to children born here, The Times noted.

"The case is alarming because it shows what can happen once you start treating kids who are born here whose parents are undocumented with less rights than a full-blown citizen," Jeanne A. Butterfield, a former executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and adviser to the Ruiz family's lawyers, told the newspaper.
Filed under: Nation, Immigration
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