A Tucson woman who was scheduled to be deported Sunday night stemming from identity theft in 2008 has been granted a one-year deferral by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Marlen Moreno Peralta, 25, was arrested on March 18, 2008 along with 10 others at the Panda Express at 2485 N. Swan Road, Suite 101, after a three-month DPS identity-theft investigation.
She and the others were booked into the Pima County jail on suspicion of aggravated identity theft, a Class 3 felony that was created under a 2005 law that made it illegal to use a fake ID to get a job. Later that year, the 11 pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation, designated by the judge as a misdemeanor.
After spending 4 1/2 months in Pima County jail, she was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in July 2008, said her immigration attorney Maurice Goldman. She was bonded her out and she’s been living in Tucson since. Goldman fought for a cancellation of removal but lost the case and the appeal, which is why she was going to have to leave the country Sunday night.
But all that changed when Goldman received a call yesterday from Immigration and Customs Enforcement informing him of the one-year deferral, which can be renewed.
Moreno came to the United States illegally with her parents when she was 13 years old and graduated from Cholla High School in Tucson. She has plans to attend college to become a teacher. She and husband have two children who are U.S. citizens. Her husband is a legal permanent resident who will be eligible for citizenship next year.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the case illustrates the need for comprehensive immigration reform, said Brian Hale, director of public affairs for ICE.
“ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that focuses first on criminal aliens who pose a threat to our communities while we continue to work with Congress to enact reform,” Hale wrote in a statement. “ICE uses its discretion on a case-by-case basis, as appropriate, and has the authority to grant a deferral of a removal action based upon the merits of an individual's case and a review of specific facts."
The fact that her husband can become a U.S. citizen next year is key for Moreno, Goldman said, because if he becomes a citizen, she will be able to stay in the country while they wait for her green card to be approved.
These deferrals are fairly rare, but becoming more commonplace for people like Moreno who were brought to the U.S. as children, Goldman said. Even though the “Dream Act” has failed to become law despite several attempts, the government seems to be granting more deferrals to people who fit the criteria:
- They have been in the U.S before their 16th birthday.
- Been here for at least five years.
- No older than 30 years old.
- Have good moral character, which means no felonies.
- Are committed to attend college or join the military.
“What we are looking at here is a humanitarian decision,” Goldman said. “Our government has finally over the last several months realized that people like Marlen are here in this country and they are not out selling drugs, committing horrific crimes and they are just here for the betterment of the country.”
Thousands of people and 50 organizations sent petitions, emails and phone calls on her behalf to Napolitano, said Kathryn Ferguson, who was active in the campaign and works with Tucson-based No More Deaths.
“This is a landmark case,” said Ferguson, adding that she hopes this will lead to more pardons for people who were brought as children and have nothing in their countries of origin.
Of the other 10 arrested in 2008 at Panda Express, eight have been deported. One of them, Omar Espino Lara, was allowed to petition for his green card through is U.S. citizen wife and is now here legally. The only other outstanding case is that of Araceli Torres Ruiz, who is appealing her deportation orders, Goldman said.
Espino, Torres and Moreno share the common trait that all three came to the U.S. as children.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.