A U.S. Army spouse is awaiting possible deportation at a Georgia holding facility after being detained as an illegal immigrant following a routine traffic stop near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, late last month.
Yadira Fuentes-Paz, a citizen of Honduras, was pulled over after failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign on May 30, her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Felix Vega, told Military.com.
Fuentes-Paz, 39, was brought to the U.S. at age four by a man to whom her mother sold her, Vega said, and was a victim of continued child abuse. Homeless at age 13, she was later convicted of a felony drug-trafficking charge in 2000 at age 21 and deported to Honduras.
But she left behind two children born in the U.S. and returned to the country illegally through Mexico in 2004 to reunite with them, Vega said.
The pair married in 2015, and Fuentes-Paz has been a Defense Department ID card holder since then, he said. Fuentes-Paz's 24-year-old son is a Marine Corps sergeant.
Vega, who is in the process of PCSing to Fort Lee, Virginia, is fighting for his wife to stay in the U.S. He said they don't know when she might be deported. In the meantime, he is working with an immigration lawyer to file appeals.
"I'm going to fight for her until I f------ can't," Vega said. "Worst-case scenario, I'll live in a cardboard box in Virginia and send her money so she can be better off."
Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed Fuentes-Paz is in their custody. They did not provide a potential deportation date.
Vega said they applied for Fuentes-Paz's I-130 status in 2016, the first step to obtaining a green card under a program for the spouses of U.S. citizens. But thanks to a backlog, that application is still in process. After her arrest, they began applying for U and T visas, which are available to victims of crimes or human trafficking.
Spouses of military members or veterans have in the past been eligible for a program known as Parole in Place (PIP), which allows those in the country illegally to apply for a green card while staying in the U.S., rather than returning to their home country to do so.
But that program has decreased in use due to security concerns. And it wasn't immediately clear how Fuentes-Paz's previous felony conviction and deportation could impact her eligibility.
"When considering parole in place applications for eligible members of the military and their families, [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] evaluates the entirety of evidence available at the time the benefit is adjudicated," a spokesman for USCIS, which manages the PIP program, said in a statement.
Vega said a local news story on their situation caught the attention of Fort Bragg officials and his chain of command, and they are trying to help. He said he told his stepson to stay focused on his Marine Corps training. Meanwhile, he's trying to keep his head in the game, while hoping to cover some of their legal fees through a GoFundMe page.
"It gets me angry -- you know I'm to the point I don't even want to serve anymore," he said. "I don't sleep -- everything I eat just comes right up."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.