Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have detained an undocumented mother of three after she voluntarily arrived at a Florida courthouse to pay off a minor traffic ticket. Now she is being held in a federal detention facility, separated from her children and awaiting deportation from the country she’s called home for nearly a decade.
In an interview with Miami New Times, 24-year-old Guatemalan-born Maria (the paper withheld her last name while her deportation case remains active) explained that after being given a $150 traffic ticket for driving without a proper license—and subsequently being allowed to drive away—she went to a courthouse in Florida’s Martin County to square her account.
“I wanted to make this all right with the law,” she told the paper. “I went to present myself and straighten this out.”
Instead, the New Times reported, she was detained and kept locked away until immigration authorities arrived to take her into custody. To make matters worse, she had already paid $750 in bail—money which the county kept while still holding her until ICE arrived.
According to her attorney with the Legal Aid Service of Broward County—where ICE is holding her—Maria’s detention following her bail payment was a possible Fourth Amendment violation, and she may have grounds for a lawsuit. In the meantime, however, she is allowed to speak to her three children—two of whom were born in the United States—just once a week.
“They give me 60 to 90 minutes one time a week with my kids,” Maria told New Times. “Imagine. I am their mother! That is very little time. They cry. They sob. ‘Mami vamos,’ they say. The 9-year-old is scared she will be detained. She comes to visit me, but she is waiting to be arrested. She says ‘Mami, I don’t want to go back into detention.’”
I have reached out to the Martin County Sheriff’s office and ICE for comment on Maria’s arrest and detention. I will update this story if they respond.
Maria’s detention and subsequent deportation effort comes as the Trump administration is scrambling to both reunite families it has separated at the southern United States border, while simultaneously arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants—many of whom, like Maria, seem to pose no threat to public safety.