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Mother of 2 young children who was seeking asylum is arrested by ICE agents in Knoxville

Travis Dorman, Knoxville News Sentinel • Feb 6, 2020 at 9:13 AM

KNOXVILLE —  A Guatemalan woman living in Knox County while she seeks asylum was abruptly taken into custody by federal immigration agents Wednesday, sparking outcry from attorneys and advocates who say she'll be needlessly separated from her toddler and infant.

Elena Felipe-Mateo, 22, was pregnant when authorities say she came to the U.S. illegally in January 2019. She pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor of unlawfully entering the country and was released on her own recognizance, according to her lawyer, Rachel Bonano. Since then, Felipe-Mateo has given birth, applied for asylum, committed no crimes, completed her probation and regularly checked in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office on Prosperity Drive in Knoxville, Bonano said.

It was during one of those routine check-ins that ICE agents took Felipe-Mateo into custody Wednesday morning after asking about the father of her children, ages 2 years and 5 months, and whether she had been breastfeeding.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said in a statement to Knox News that Felipe-Mateo was released from custody after her 2019 conviction "on humanitarian grounds due to her status as a pregnant female. The humanitarian factor that led to her release no longer exists and Ms. Felipe-Mateo was taken into ICE custody February 5 pending the outcome of her legal proceedings before the federal immigration courts." Our partners at the News Sentinel have more.

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