The Colombia-born wife of a Georgia state senator, who had been in hiding as federal immigration officials tried to deport her, is expected to be freed Tuesday after meeting with an immigration judge who lifted the order to remove her from the country.
Sascha Herrera, 28, arrived at the Martin Luther King Federal Building shortly before 8 a.m. to turn herself in and face authorities in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office.
"I'm very nervous right now," Herrera said. "I think I'm doing the right thing. I hope my name and my husband's name is clean."
Her husband, State Sen. Curt Thompson said, "The main goal is to make sure after the interview that they will allow Sascha to go home."
Terry Bird, a government lawyer, said the judge lifted the order and agreed to reopen her case. Bird said another hearing will be scheduled on a petition filed by Curt Thompson to establish permanent residency for his wife.
She had been in hiding since Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrived at her home Nov. 28 with an order to remove her from the U.S. She was not home at the time.
Her attorney, Charles Kuck, said although the deportation order has been lifted, Herrera is still technically in deportation proceedings. He says he expects the hearing will be held in the next two to four months on her green card for permanent residency.
Kuck claims she was duped by a man handling her immigration requests and that she never received the immigration notices that triggered her deportation order.
Kuck filed a petition Monday to stay her deportation order and reopen her case, arguing that a man filed an asylum petition on her behalf without her knowledge and before her husband sponsored her green card application based on their April marriage.
The deportation order stems from Herrera's repeated failure to appear before a judge on the asylum application, which Kuck said she did not know had been filed.
The case hinges on whether Herrera received a notice to appear in court, and whether the asylum application could have been filed without her knowledge, said Victor Cerda, former general counsel for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Thompson, a Democrat and attorney, has been a strong advocate of immigration rights.
According to Kuck, Herrera came to the U.S. — where her parents have been living — on a visitor visa in 2003. She applied for an extension to the visa through a "notario" — a man who claimed he was qualified to handle legal immigration matters — but did not get it until 20 days before the extension was due to expire.
The notario then suggested an asylum application, which Herrera signed, but she got a "bad vibe" from the man and decided not to proceed, Kuck said.
Later in 2004, she was accepted as a student at Kennesaw State University, which got a student visa for her. She then told the notario she did not want anything to do with him.
She met Thompson last year and they got married in April, when he applied for her to become a permanent resident.
But in the meantime, the notario filed the asylum application, listing his address as hers.
Cerda said the deportation order in the asylum case would trump any pending green card application and trigger mandatory detention.
Her decision to hide could hurt her request for a judge's stay on deportation, Cerda said. Now that she has turned herself in, she could remain in the U.S. while her petition is pending, either in jail or released on bond.