A Durham man in a race against the clock to marry his high school sweetheart before she's deported to El Salvador, woke up Thursday believing he was too late.
After flying to Louisiana to visit his fiancé at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center where she was moved two weeks ago, Robert Paulino got word ICE officials had taken her to the airport.
Once he reached the detention facility though, Paulino discovered that while officers took Wendy Miranda to the airport around 3 a.m., they ended up bringing her right back.
"She's always scared all the time because there's always somebody coming in and taking people out of there to get deported," Paulino said of Miranda after spending an hour visiting with her. "ICE thinks this is a game."
Miranda's family says she fled El Salvador and came to the United States when she was 14 after witnessing gang members murder someone.
Immigration officials told the I-Team that in 2008, she was caught trying to enter the U.S. along the Texas-Mexico border. As an unaccompanied minor, she had temporary refugee status. The Riverside High School graduate has been living with family members in Durham, knowing her temporary status was always subject to change.
READ MORE: Family says woman won't be safe if she's deported
Miranda and Paulino got engaged about a year ago, but by March she had lost the last of several appeals and now the young couple just wants to get married.
"We can stay together even when she do get deported, we can still be together," Paulino said. "Since all this happened I gotta move fast now. There's no waiting."
Paulino traveled to Louisiana with his stepfather, Frank Reyes. Members of his family have made three separate trips with him to ICE detention centers where he could visit his fiancé, twice to Georgia, and now Louisiana.
"He's my son," said Reyes. "I love him just like I love my other kids. I gotta be there for him."
In between visits to the detention facility, Reyes is helping Paulino gather the necessary paperwork so he can get a marriage license.
All the while, living with the uncertainty of when Miranda will be moved for the last time, out of the country.
"I will go to El Salvador when she gets deported," said Paulino. "I will go and see what I can do to bring her back over here."
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Durham man racing to marry fiancé before she's deported