A Stockton woman who was about to be deported to the Philippines despite being married to a U.S. Army soldier and the mother of a 9-month-old baby was given a reprieve today by federal immigration officials.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced this afternoon that they were exercising prosecutorial discretion in the case of Karla Gaerlan, 28, canceling a formerly issued order of “voluntary departure.”
The announcement came hours after dozens of people gathered outside of the ICE office in San Francisco to call on the agency to stop the deportation of Gaerlan, who was joined by her husband Specialist Thad Schmierer, who is due to deploy to Afghanistan in October.
Gaerlan was set to be deported to the Philippines on Sunday after she said she was coerced into signing a “voluntary departure” waiver form when she was detained in federal immigration custody.
Gaerlan, who suffers from post-partum depression after giving birth to her son, was initially detained by police after scratching her husband during an argument at their home on May 7.
Gaerlan and Schmierer joined more than 20 people today outside the ICE office in San Francisco to call on federal authorities to allow her to stay in the country.
Gaerlan struggled to hold back tears while describing how ICE agents intimidated her and told her to waive her right to see a judge. She said that if she is deported, she would not be allowed to return to the U.S. for 10 years.
“They didn’t tell me I was eligible to apply for a green card,” she said.
The couple got married following her eight-day immigration detainment—charges were never filed in the scratching incident—but before this afternoon’s announcement, they were looking at being split apart on Father’s Day.
Schmierer said the thought of being without his family “makes you want to break down and cry.”
Anoop Prasad, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, which is representing the couple, said the case is an example of immigration officials “using any means necessary to trick people into signing away their rights.”
The American Civil Liberties Union last week filed a lawsuit against ICE for its alleged practice of coercing undocumented immigrants to sign the “voluntary departure” forms while in custody.
ICE officials said that the meeting with Gaerlan and her family was done in “a professional and respectful setting” and that the agency conferred with Gaerlan, her husband and her mother-in-law.
Prasad said earlier today that the case is one of many that should be put on hold while Congress considers comprehensive immigration reform.
“It can’t be business as usual at ICE,” he said.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News