UPDATE: Selene Saavedra Roman has now been freed – more details here.
A Texan flight attendant who had been flying for little more than a month has been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after her first trip outside of the United States. 28-year old Selene Saavedra Roman has been held in an immigration detention center in Houston for nearly two months after returning from Mexico. A petition has now been started in a bid to get her freed.
Roman has been living in the United States for over two and a half decades after her parents brought her illegally into the country at the age of three from her native Peru. She is a so-called DREAMer who has been allowed to legally live and work in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law which was introduced by the former Obama Administration.
Roman, who has no criminal history, is a graduate of Texas A&M and is married to a U.S. citizen.
In January, Roman started her dream job as a flight attendant with Phoenix-based airline Mesa Air. The airline is a regional carrier that operates services on behalf of United Express and American Airlines. Roman had been operating a flight on behalf of United Express when she was arrested by immigration officers at Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) on February 12.
“It really boggles my mind why the government would want to seek to continue to detain someone with no criminal history who was a graduate of Texas A&M and who was approved and on her way to citizenship,”explain’s Roman’s lawyer Belinda Arroyo.
When she was first assigned the ‘turnaround’ flight assignment to Mexico, which didn’t even involve her getting off the aircraft, Roman contacted her supervisor to explain her concerns because she held DACA status. Her supervisor wrongly told Roman that she would be fine and not wanting to upset her bosses so soon into starting a new job, she decided to take the assignment.
Selene Saavedra Roman is a DREAMer with approved status, no criminal history, and simply doing her job as a certified U.S. Flight Attendant. But she was detained by ICE and has been held for over a month with no end in sight. #FreeSelene
Sign the petition: https://t.co/SDwVnbBAnv pic.twitter.com/D4oqiOmaFF
— Sara Nelson (@FlyingWithSara) March 22, 2019
She had apparently already told Mesa that she didn’t want to work flights out of the United States as she feared it would jeopardise her DACA status. Under the Obama-era law, around 700,000 immigrants are able to live and work legally, pay taxes and work towards official U.S. citizenship. Roman was halfway through the process of attaining citizenship when she was detained.
An email sent by a supervisor at Mesa Air and first published by the Points Guy revealed that airline bosses thought Roman wouldn’t have any issues travelling outside the U.S. writing: “She should be okay because it’s part of DACA as long as it is not expiring.”
That, though, wasn’t the case and Roman was detained when she returned to the U.S. on February 12. She was initially held at the airport for 24-hours before being transferred to a detention center outside Houston. Roman has a hearing scheduled for April where she’ll have to convince a Federal judge that she should not have her DACA status revoked.
ICE is apparently pushing for her to be deported back to Peru, while both Mesa Air and United had allegedly initially offered zero support to the detained flight attendant. The chief executive of Mesa, Jonathan Ornstein has since publicly called for Roman’s release, calling the whole situation an “administrative error” and describing Roman’s treatment as “patently unfair”.
“They’re only allowed outside once a week, like in a concrete courtyard where I guess they can look at the sky, and maybe they have grass,” explained her husband, David Watkins.
“I can visit her for an hour once a week, but I can’t bring her books or photos, and it’s through two inches of glass. I mean, yeah, it’s a prison.”
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) says it is mobilising in an attempt to secure the release of Roman. A petition has been started on the MoveOn website and can be signed by following this link.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.