FAIRFIELD, Ohio -- Maribel Trujillo Diaz, a mother of four who was deported to Mexico alone after 15 years in the United States, could return to her family in Fairfield.
Could. Father Michael Pucke, who advocated for Trujillo and her family prior to her deportation, was careful Tuesday to specify that an immigration court had only agreed to reconsider her plea for asylum, not to grant it.
Still, he said, that hope of reunion is more than she and her family have had since April 2017.
"The family is still reeling from shock," he said.
Trujillo, who arrived in the United States in 2002, became known to authorities during a 2007 raid on Koch Foods. She then applied for asylum, but her application was denied.
Aided by the support of faith leaders like Pucke, she received several legal extensions of her time in the country. She had obtained a valid work permit and had recently met with ICE agents in Columbus when she was arrested April 5, 2017. By April 19, she was back in Michoacan, Mexico, where she said her family had been threatened and extorted by gangs.
It happened so quickly that her 14-year-old son, Oswaldo, told the Journal-News he was never able to hug his mother goodbye.
"It was just like a goodbye because she was going to work," he said of the day she was arrested. "It was like, ‘Bye.' It wasn't a hug or a kiss like we usually do."
Although multiple appeals had been denied prior to her deportation and a request for an emergency stay of deportation was declined, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati ordered immigration officials in January to re-examine Trujillo's case.
According to the three-judge panel, the Board of Immigration Appeals had "abused its discretion" and failed to consider the testimony of Trujillo's father, who said their family and Trujillo specifically had been targeted by cartels.
Pucke said Tuesday the immigration case had been reopened the previous week.
"What it means for her is the possibly -- still remote, but the possibility — that they may find that her application for asylum has merit," he said. "What that means more concretely is that we're hoping the United States government will allow Maribel back into the United States to participate in a court date in September."
Trujillo's children are American citizens, he added. All four were born after her arrival in the country. Although they could theoretically join her in Mexico, he said he had been in regular communication with Trujillo and learned she would rather remain apart from them than bring them into a dangerous situation.
"Her love for these kids is expressed through this sacrifice," he said.
He added he believed there were parallels between the situation Trujillo faced and the situation of asylum seekers who have been separated from their children after crossing the United States border under the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy on illegal immigration.
In all cases, Pucke said, the government should strike a balance in immigration law.
"What my appeal to the government would be is that we work hard at finding a way to protect our borders and at the same time respect human dignity and the absolute need for people to find a safe place," he said.
He encouraged people who were moved by Trujillo's plight and the plight of other would-be migrant parents to pray and contact their elected representatives.
"(They need to) let their officials know that this is not what they want our country to be," he said. "I want to call my fellow Americans to what's best in our American nature, in our American character. Not fear or narrowness."
On the other hand, some critics are concerned that it could set a precedent and turn asylum into a loophole for undocumented immigrants to return to the United States.
"If she's truly an asylum seeker and that can be proven in a court and she’s granted asylum and is reunited with her family, fantastic,” said Andrew Pappas of the Republican Party. “But it it's being used as an excuse to try to force the immigration policy, that really demeans the whole issue of true asylum seekers who are really suffering persecution.”