Mesa Airlines Flight Attendant Held by ICE Has Been Freed

Mar 22, 2019

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Selene Saavedra Roman, the Mesa Airlines flight attendant and Dreamer immigrant, has been freed from a detention facility in Texas, according to her husband.

“She just called me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘I’m out,'” her husband, David Watkins, said over the phone.

Thousands of Americans, from fellow flight attendants to former presidential candidate and secretary of state Hillary Clinton had taken up the cause of the flight attendant after The Points Guy was the first to report on the plight of Saavedra, who had spent nearly two months sitting behind barbed wire at an immigration detention center.

“We’re not going to rest until we get her home,” Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a telephone interview.

Watkins texted TPG less than an hour after that.

“When Selene called, I was like, ‘Oh, my God. The power of social media,'” he said, before hanging up to make the four-hour drive from San Antonio to pick Saavedra up.

Watkins said Saavedra is still expected to attend a court hearing in April in which she will have to defend herself against being deported to Peru, the country she emigrated illegally from at the age of 3. And he said it’s not clear whether the incident — in which Mesa Airlines superiors had mistakenly assured her she’d be safe to work routes outside the US — would derail her path to citizenship. That means that Saavedra’s only free for now — and could be forced to leave the only country she’s known since she was a toddler.

Saavedra, who grew up in Dallas and was by all accounts a model immigrant, quickly became a cause célèbre after her story went public, inspiring a MoveOn petition, earning a Twitter plea from Clinton and even helping form an alliance between the AFA union and Mesa Airlines to free her.

“We are going to be working together to do whatever we can,” Nelson said, adding that both the AFA and Mesa had been reaching out to members of Congress, immigration groups and the administration to get Saavedra out. “Here’s someone who couldn’t be a better example of someone who followed all the rules, up to and including challenging her company when she got an assignment and them being told she would be fine and following their instructions — I mean, she’s a rules follower!”

“We are deeply sorry Selene and her husband have had to endure this situation,” Mesa Chairman and CEO Jonathan Ornstein said in a statement. “It is patently unfair for someone to be detained for six weeks over something that is nothing more than an administrative error and a misunderstanding. We are doing everything in our power to ask the administration to release Selene, and drop all charges stemming from this horrible situation.”

Shortly before learning of his wife’s release, Watkins said the outpouring of support — and it had overwhelmingly been support, he added — had given him hope that things might turn out OK.

“This is the first bit of good news I’ve had in a month and a half,” he said of the social-media messages. “And I know people have opinions both ways, and I respect your opinions, because this is America, but I have to save my wife.”

Photo courtesy of David Watkins.

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