Ledyard — The community has raised more than $3,000 for an immigrant resident who, detained just one day before she planned to apply for a green card through her husband, now could be deported.
Alejandra “Ali” Alvarado Montoya, 22, came to the United States from Mexico with her mother in 2005, escaping a combination of corrupt governments and abusive relatives.
They lived in Houston and Long Island before moving to New London, where Alvarado Montoya attended the C.B. Jennings Elementary School, and Groton, where she went to Fitch High School.
With help from her mother, Alvarado Montoya applied for and was accepted to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, in 2013. Launched by former President Barack Obama, the program allows certain youth brought into the country illegally to live, work and go to school here. It does not give them permanent resident status or put them on a path to citizenship.
Through mutual friends, Alvarado Montoya met Nakai Northup, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe member who became her husband in October 2013.
Alvarado Montoya said she didn’t tell Northup about her status at first — she didn’t want him to think she was using him to get legal status. She also didn’t pursue citizenship through him sooner because she believed immigration officials wouldn’t take their young relationship seriously.
“But we’ve been together since,” she said. “He’s my best friend.”
Alvarado Montoya, who had her daughter, Silvermist, in 2015, never went beyond a high school education because she couldn't afford college and DACA status recipients aren’t eligible for federal financial aid.
When it came time to renew her DACA status last spring, she decided to let it lapse on the advice of her lawyer, Maria Luisa de Castro Foden.
Though President Donald Trump hadn’t announced his intention to phase out DACA, its future was uncertain at the time and remains so today, with the program’s legality is being questioned in federal courts.
De Castro Foden said Alvarado Montoya instead should put the $495 renewal fee toward seeking a green card, which costs $1,225 for those between ages 14 and 78.
She agreed, set up an appointment for May 22, 2017, and on May 18, 2017, traveled to the Canadian border town Massena, N.Y., with Northup, who was modeling in a photo shoot there to help pay for her green card.
When Northup, finished with the shoot, came to pick up Alvarado Montoya and her daughter from the hotel where they were staying, a police car in front of him also pulled into the lot, Alvarado Montoya said.
Not wanting to disobey a “no left turn” sign at the hotel exit, Northup turned right and turned around in a nearby gas station so they could begin their eight-hour journey home.
Alvarado Montoya said the same police car followed them to another gas station, where they had stopped to refuel.
Northup began driving again but was pulled over about five minutes later by a border patrol officer who didn’t say why he had stopped them but did ask Alvarado Montoya for identification, Alvarado Montoya said.
Alvarado Montoya said she produced her valid driver’s license but the officer wanted to see federal identification. She handed him her DACA certificate, which had expired 11 days earlier, and explained she was visiting her lawyer the next day to apply for a green card.
The officer arrested her in front of her hysterical daughter — she had asked him to move out of Silvermist’s line of view — and sent her to be detained for eight hours, a “horrible” experience.
"I personally feel that the entire situation wasn't necessary," Northup said. "You could clearly tell we weren't crossing the Canadian border. We had a copy of our marriage certificate on hand. We provided proof of the reason we went to New York for the photo shoot. It was clearly profiling."
The officer didn't cite Northup with a driving violation.
“When I got arrested, I was just so sad,” Alvarado Montoya said. “I just cried. I was sitting there in disbelief. I did everything right so this would not happen.”
Alvarado Montoya wasn’t given a court date and still didn’t have one when, last month, she received notice she was in removal proceedings, which can lead to deportation.
Because of a June Supreme Court decision, Alvarado Montoya will be able to cancel the removal proceedings. The court said notices to appear that don't list the date and time of the hearing aren’t legally sufficient under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
De Castro Foden, Alvarado Montoya’s lawyer, called her case an “outrageous” but “easy” one.
“This is the last person they should spend energy on,” she said in a voicemail left Friday. “This is a girl who’s lived here all her life, has no criminal record and is married to a U.S. citizen and half the way to adjusting her status.”
“It’s a senseless waste of time,” she said. “I’m not concerned about her ever being deported. I just think it’s an absolute shame she has to end up in front of an immigration judge closing out a case that never should have been opened in the first place.”
The cancellation, necessary before Alvarado Montoya can continue seeking a green card, will cost another $750.
“Everything is more money,” said Alvarado Montoya, who works two part-time jobs.
Alvarado Montoya said it was a coworker’s idea to start the GoFundMe page. She set the goal at $3,000 — $1,000 for lawyer fees, $750 to stop removal and $1,225 for the green card — and watched with disbelief as about $600 rolled in within the first few hours of the campaign.
“I thought I would get maybe $500 and I would have been happy with that,” said Alvarado Montoya, who expressed thanks to those who donated and hopes one day to become a teacher. “I just keep crying because I don’t believe it. It wasn’t just money. It’s like my dreams and hopes are going to happen now.”
As of Saturday afternoon, the campaign had raised $3,274.
Alvarado Montoya said she understands it when people suggest those who are undocumented should have come here legally in the first place.
She and her mother would have loved to do that, she said.
Her mother fled Guatemala in the midst of a 36-year civil war — only to end up with an abusive alcoholic husband in Mexico. Alvarado Montoya said her father would steal any money her mother earned and sometimes beat her so badly she was hospitalized for days — days during which Alvarado Montoya went hungry because her mother was the one who fed her.
“I watch my mother get dragged,” Alvarado Montoya said, crying. “And the police were corrupt. If we called them, they were going to help my father, if anything.”
Alvarado Montoya said the journey to the United States took months, including a portion of time spent imprisoned by those who had brought them to the border.
“The people kidnapped us and wouldn’t let us go because mom needed to make and pay them more money,” she said. “I tried to erase that part of my life because it was just so bad. I would never wish that on anybody.”
To apply from outside the United States requires all kinds of documentation, Alvarado Montoya added — documentation that neither she nor her mother had.
“If we could have come here legally, why wouldn’t we?” she said. “Why wouldn’t we want to go on (an) airplane? It’s much more comfortable than the back of (a) trailer truck.”