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LI girl caught in customs flap comes home

Emily Ruiz, who lives at an undisclosed location

Emily Ruiz, who lives at an undisclosed location on Long Island, was returning to Brentwood from a trip to Guatemala with her grandfather in March 2011 when they were stopped by customs officers at Dulles International Airport. Credit: AP

A 4-year-old Brentwood girl, a U.S. citizen sent to Guatemala as part of an immigration dispute involving her parents' undocumented status, is headed back to Long Island, a spokeswoman for the family's attorney said.

Emily Samantha Ruiz was put on a flight to Guatemala several weeks ago in what immigration advocates denounced as a deportation.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials deny that's what took place, saying the girl's return trip was her parents' choice.

She had been coming back to Brentwood with her grandfather after an extended visit to her parents' country, but her guardian was detained for an immigration violation. The girl returned to Central America with him.

David Sperling, a Long Island attorney representing the family, flew back to Guatemala last weekend to bring Emily home. Their travel plans were delayed Tuesday, but advocates had already scheduled a news conference to announce Emily's return for Wednesday morning near Kennedy Airport.

"The family is glad to have her back," said Maria Ponce, of immigration-advocacy group America's Voice in Washington, D.C., which is fielding media calls for Sperling and the family.

Sperling issued a statement that said U.S. Customs and Border Protection sought to place the child under state custody in a juvenile center in Virginia, rather than release her to parents who are in the country illegally.

"For the CBP to refuse to help reunite a terrified, 4-year-old U.S. citizen girl with her parents is disgraceful and shameful," Sperling stated.

In a new statement issued Tuesday, the federal agency repeated that "the family was offered the chance to pick up the child" but chose to send her back.

The agency would not impede her return, the statement said: "The child in this situation is now traveling with a guardian and both are U.S citizens. They will be processed as U.S. citizens returning home from international travel."

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), who has called for the incident to be reviewed, said Tuesday he was "relieved" that the girl is returning. He said his staff is working "to ensure Emily's re-entry to the United States goes smoothly."

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