11-year-old asylum seeker faces deportation, separation from her family

"No somos criminales, no somos..."

Dora Maradiaga says she and her family are not criminals. She is just a single mother fighting to keep her family together, specifically, fighting to keep her 11-year-old daughter Laura in the U.S. while her family seeks asylum.

The family fled to Houston in October 2018 after several family members were murdered by gang members who did not want them to testify in court. It is a tragic story, but activists say it is by no means unique.

"It's important to realize that one of the reasons the family left El Salvador is the violence the family has experienced there and this is the case among so many immigrants from Central and South America," said Cesar Espinosa with F.I.E.L. The violence is a key driver of the immigrant caravans working their way from Central America through Mexico to the U.S. southern border.

Dora's family crossed the border and was picked up by border patrol agents. The relatives were scheduled to appear in court but the partial federal government shutdown delayed it. When they eventually made it to court, Laura wasn't there. After a while, Dora found out why. For some reason, Laura, and only Laura, had a deportation order.

"This is a mistake, but it happens in courts again and again," said Sylvia Minz, Dora's pro bono immigration attorney. "They have so many cases. The judges, according to some studies, have two minutes per case."

Lives can change in two minutes. Families can shatter. Dora's lawyer will file a motion to reopen her case as soon as possible but there are no guarantees.

"We feel this is very unjust because this is an 11-year-old child," said Espinosa. "It makes no sense for a family unit to go through this very grave situation."

FOX 26 News has reached out to ICE about the family's situation. ICE referred FOX 26 to the U.S. Department of Justice. In the meantime, Laura could be deported at any moment.