A Salvadoran woman who was put on a plane home by U.S. immigration officials despite government promises not to deport her said she was "very sad and scared" on the flight, according to a statement in court documents filed Monday.
"While we were in the air, no one told me anything about what was happening," said the woman, who is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Trump administration.
The woman was returned to the United States after an outraged U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan demanded last Thursday that immigration officials turn her plane around. He threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other administration officials in contempt of court if they didn't get her back to the United States.
The woman and her daughter are plaintiffs in a case challenging the Trump administration’s changes to asylum regulations that Sullivan was holding a hearing on when the woman and her daughter — identified in the lawsuit as Carmen and J.A.C.F — were deported.
The changes removed domestic and gang violence as grounds for seeking asylum in the United States. Carmen's attorneys have said she has been raped and stalked by her husband who has threatened her and preyed upon by gangs in her home country.
Carmen, a pseudonym, described her deportation in a court document filed by attorneys on Monday. Sullivan had demanded explanations from the government on how she and her daughter ended up deported.
The woman and her daughter were at the South Texas Family Detention Center in Dilley when guards woke her up at 3 a.m. (4 a.m. ET), she said in her statement. She said she told officials she was not supposed to be deported because she was appealing her case. But officials told her to wake her daughter up and to pack her belongings and took her to the San Antonio airport and put her on a flight with other people being deported.
“I was very sad and scared when I thought I had to return to my country because of the dire consequences waiting for us,” she stated. “I spent the entire ride to my home country worried about what would happen to my daughter and me once we landed.”
She said it was only after they landed and others had left the plane that an official verified who she was and told her “that his boss had told him that I was going to be returned to the U.S.”
“When he told me that I could return to the United States, I was so happy — to keep fighting for my case and for my daughter,” Carmen said.
Immigration officials blamed her deportation on a data error and confusion over why her deportation had been delayed.
A statement from Daniel Bible, field office director for the San Antonio Field office of Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Carmen’s attorneys had asked for reconsideration of the decision that Carmen failed to show "credible fear" of returning to her country that would allow her to stay in the U.S. and pursue an asylum request.
Once that request was denied a detention officer thought the delay in deportation had been lifted, Bible said.
Bible called the deportation an "unacceptable incident" in his court statement and said he has ordered a comprehensive review of removal procedures at the San Antonio Field Office “to identify gaps in oversight of the process” and said he has taken other interim steps to ensure holds on deportation are properly marked and supervised.