A Salvadoran mom of four who had been allowed to be in the US on humanitarian grounds for a decade while a tangle of legal cases unfolds was arrested in Baltimore at a routine meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on Tuesday.

Roxana Santos of Frederick, Md. faces deportation after the surprise arrest. She has four kids, including three elementary schoolers who are US citizens.

The children are unsure if they’ll see their mother again, according to family friend Jennifer Ventura who spoke outside the family’s Frederick home.

“Her kids are suffering. They don’t have a mom anymore,” Ventura said.

The arrest sparked an immediate protest as lawyers for Santos and CASA of Maryland said fear is forcing immigrants like Santos who are trying to comply with immigration requirements to go into hiding.

“Clients are obligated to show up but I can understand if they want to disappear why they would,” said CASA of Maryland Attorney Jose Perez. “That’s what this conduct is encouraging people to do.”

Santos entered the US illegally in 2005 and failed to appear for an immigration hearing after being detained by Border Patrol in Texas, according to her attorneys. An order for her deportation was issued in 2007.

Since then, Santos has attempted to reopen her immigration case and was allowed to stay in the US on humanitarian grounds by ICE administrators handling the matter, her lawyers said. Attorneys said she had been appearing for routine “check ins” with ICE officials monitoring her case for nearly a decade.

It was at such a check in meeting where she was arrested Tuesday in the presence of one of her lawyers.

The case has attracted additional attention because Santos is regarded as a civil rights figure by immigration reform advocates in the region.

Santos fought her unlawful arrest by Frederick County deputies in 2008 in a case of alleged racial profiling.   

Federal courts ruled in her favor and her attorneys are currently litigating for damages of up to $1 million against the Frederick County Sheriff’s department.

She became an immigration reform activist and has met US Senator Ben Cardin with her children.

Roxana Santos with Sen. Ben Cardin
CASA of Maryland

Before her detention on Tuesday, she was expected to appear in court in the civil rights case Monday.

Santos is an applicant for a visa that would allow her to stay in the US as a cooperator in legal matters, according to attorney Nick Katz of CASA of Maryland. She was also seeking to reopen her immigration case.

Santos had been working in restaurants, according to Ventura.

The children are in the care of their father, Ventura said. The children’s father is seeking asylum in the US, according to CASA attorneys.

The couple own a modest townhome in Frederick and the children attend local schools.

Santos is currently detained in Worcester County, Md. pending her possible deportation to El Salvador, where her attorneys said she was a victim of abuse.

Attempts to contact ICE for more information on the case were not successful. Officials were not available to speak because of the government shutdown, according to an automated response from the agency after it was contacted by WUSA9.