NEW YORK — A Yale University graduate student is constantly watching his phone as he waits for news on his mother, who is detained and could be deported to Honduras, a country where he says she won’t get the medical treatment she needs as a survivor of stage-four cancer.
Cristian Padilla Romero, a 24-year-old doctoral student, created an online petition asking for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release his mother, and raised more than $39,000 through a crowdfunding campaign for her legal and medical needs.
His mother, Tania Romero, has been in a Georgia detention center since mid-August.
“She is not doing well. We are asking for her release so she can see a doctor,” said Padilla Romero.
An ICE spokesperson said that due to privacy restrictions, the agency is unable to comment on Romero’s case.
The student claims his mother was taken to an unknown airport Sunday night but was then returned to Irwin County Detention Center, in Ocilla. The account couldn’t be confirmed with ICE.
Padilla Romero, a Ph.D student in Latin American history, faces an uncertain future himself: He is part of a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which shields young immigrants from deportation. The Trump administration wants to end the program. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on it Tuesday after federal courts had ruled in favor of preserving it.
Yale students and officials have expressed support for Padilla Romero, contacting members of Congress and helping him write public statements. Lynn Cooley, the dean of Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, wrote a guest column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that said sending Romero back to Honduras, where she won’t have adequate medical treatment, “is inhumane.”
“The Romero family reminds us that this is a country built on the hard work and intellectual abilities of immigrants,” wrote Cooley. “We should not block access to the resources that make them, and all of us, better.”
Padilla Romero said he traveled to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and spoke with staff of U.S. senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumental, both Connecticut Democrats, about his mother’s case. His online petition has more than 37,000 signatures.
He said he has also been in touch with the office of Rep. Lucy McBath, a Georgia Democrat. Her office did not answer a message seeking comment.
Romero, 48, arrived in the United States in the 1990s and lived in Orlando, Florida, and Atlanta. Over the years she worked as a housekeeper, a dishwasher, and also in construction to help support three daughters and Padilla Romero, the student said. In August, she was stopped for a speeding violation near Atlanta. She had no driver’s license, and police alerted ICE.
Padilla Romero said ICE issued a removal order for Romero in 2008 based on her failure to show up for scheduled hearings in immigration court. The student said, however, that he obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request that show Romero never received the notices advising her to appear in court.
In 2016, Romero was diagnosed with stage-four oral cancer, the student said.
After her detention in August, a lawyer filed a request for a stay of deportation, based on her fragile health. Padilla Romero said ICE denied it. The lawyer also filed a motion to reopen her case, which was denied in October by an immigration court in Atlanta. The Romero family is now appealing to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Padilla Romero arrived in the country at the age of 7, after crossing the border with relatives, he said. Through scholarships, he entered Pomona College in Claremont, California, and graduated in 2018.
Now, at Yale, he is taking a break from his studies to focus on his mom, he said.
“My teachers have been very accommodating,” he said. “I am hopeful because we have a lot of support.”