A 4-year-old girl from Brentwood who is a U.S. citizen born to undocumented immigrants from Guatemala is caught in a dispute that separated the child from her parents.
The case, which resulted in Emily Samantha Ruiz returning to Guatemala while her mother and father remain in the United States, has angered immigrant advocates and led Rep. Steve Israel to call for an investigation.
Federal officials defended their handling of the case.
Emily was coming home with her grandfather earlier this month when both were stopped at Customs at Dulles International Airport near Washington because he had a pending immigration violation.
Immigrants' advocates say the girl was detained, made to sleep on the floor while in custody, and ultimately put on a flight back to Central America -- rather than being released to her parents.
That, critics say, amounted to deporting a U.S. citizen.
"I have no idea what possessed these agents to send back a child," said the Rev. Allan Ramirez, an advocate from Glen Head. "Since when do we deport our own citizens?"
Customs officials said the child wasn't deported but rather sent to Guatemala with her parents' consent.
"In this case, the parents were offered the chance to pick up the child but elected to have her return to Guatemala with her grandfather," said Lloyd Easterling, a spokesman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In a statement issued Wednesday through his lawyer, the girl's father, Leonel Ruiz, denied being offered an opportunity to reunite with Emily.
The family intends to send for their daughter through a third party.
Israel (D-Dix Hills) said the case shows "an overzealous interpretation of a dysfunctional law" and wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, asking for the incident to be reviewed.
"No matter where you are on the immigration debate, deporting a 4-year-old American citizen is simply not acceptable," Israel said.
Emily was returning with her grandfather March 11 when their flight was diverted to Dulles.
Customs officials refused the grandfather's admission because of a pending immigration violation, said attorney David M. Sperling of Huntington Station, who is representing the family.
Sperling said the agency refused to release the girl to her parents because they, too, live in the country illegally.
Ruiz, a landscaper, told Spanish-language newscast Noticias Univision 41 that he was waiting for his daughter to arrive at a New York airport when he found out she wasn't coming home.
"I started worrying a lot, and I started asking for information as to why they weren't here," he said.
With John Valenti