The Fight Continues After ICE Releases Flight Attendant with DACA

For six weeks, US immigration agents detained a recipient of the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy that allows undocumented individuals brought to the US as children to become eligible for employment and avoid deportation for two-year terms. Selene Saavedra Roman, who was born in Peru but has resided in Texas for the majority of her life, was recently released after weeks of DACA-related bureaucracy.

In what was supposed to be the beginning of a dream job as a flight attendant, Saavedra Roman underwent an ordeal. After completing a flight training last December, she joined Arizona-based Mesa Airlines in January. She had been working for the airline for almost a month when her company directed her to do a roundtrip flight from Houston’s George Bush International Airport to Mexico. Although Saavedra Roman flagged concerns about her DACA status, officials in Mesa assured her that “she would be fine because her DACA status was valid until November 2019.”

But as soon as she returned to Houston with her Peruvian passport, airport officials notified her she did not have the paperwork to return to the US. Still wearing her uniform, Saavedra Roman had to wait 24 hours at the airport and was later transferred to the Montgomery Processing Center in Conroe, Texas, where she was detained for over a month, according to BuzzFeed News.

Saavedra Roman came to the US illegally from Peru when she was 3 years old and grew up in Texas. After graduating from Texas A&M University in 2014, she married David Watkins (an American citizen) in 2017 and began her process to obtain US citizenship. According to her lawyer Belinda Arroyo, the government approved an I-130 petition that allows Saavedra Roman to pursue permanent residency, Buzzfeed News reported. She has not left the US after arriving almost 25 years ago.

A public outcry followed Saavedra Roman’s detainment. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted, “This is an awful story: A DACA recipient in good standing was told by her airline she could work on a route to Mexico. Now she's in detention and ICE is threatening to revoke her status.” Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson also tweeted: “Selene Saavedra Roman is a DREAMer with approved status, no criminal history, and simply doing her job as a certified U.S. Flight Attendant. But she was detained by ICE and has been held for over a month with no end in sight #FreeSelene.” Nelson and Clinton also shared a MoveOn petition that called on the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Ronald Vitiello to release Saavedra Roman. Saavedra Roma was released on March 22. However, an update to the petition signals that her struggle is far from over.

“We won the first battle, but this fight is not over. ICE is still trying to strip Selene's DACA status and deport her,” the petition states. “Please sign the petition, and we will keep you up to date on additional actions to protect Selene from deportation.” The petition hopes to collect 30,000 signatures, and it currently stands at 27,732. “We are deeply sorry Selene and her husband have had to endure this situation … We are doing everything in our power to ask the administration to … drop all charges stemming from this horrible situation,” Mesa Airlines Chairman and Chief Executive Jonathan Ornstein said in a statement.

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review,, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.