Cristina Alonso planned to visit Oregon for six weeks this summer. Instead, the 22-year-old college student from Spain spent more than two days in jail in The Dalles, according to a blog posted to the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon’s website Wednesday.
Border agents sent Alonso to Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility for having the wrong visa, wrote Laurie Bridges, the Corvallis resident who intended to host Alonso.
“I never saw her,” Bridges told The Oregonian/OregonLive Sunday.
Bridges is a librarian at Oregon State University who hoped to find a native Spanish-speaker to help her 8-year-old son learn the language. She connected with Alonso through a friend during a visit to Spain in 2016.
Alonso had never travelled outside of the European Union and hoped to go to the United States to learn English and about the culture. Bridges agreed to pay Alonso $100 per week to ease travel costs and to show her Bend and Seattle in exchange for Alonso teaching her son Spanish.
But that never happened, Bridges wrote.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent at Portland International Airport called Bridges more than an hour after Alonso landed in Portland on a July afternoon to tell her that Alonso had the wrong visa, Bridges wrote. She did not hear from Alonso or customs agents until the next day despite calling more than three times that night.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment by deadline. The Portland office is closed on the weekend, a voicemail message said.
Bridges called the ACLU of Oregon’s Immigration Hotline, and an ACLU official told her Alonso was detained at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility while she awaited a return flight to Europe.
ACLU of Oregon legal director Mat dos Santos said the customs agent did not break any laws. Alonso showed the agent a letter from Bridges that said the librarian intended to pay the college student $100 per week while she visited. The agent determined that Alonso intended to work in U.S., dos Santos said.
Still, dos Santos said customs agents should not have sent Alonso to jail. The decision speaks to increased immigration enforcement around the country, he said.
“The horror of that miscalculation … wasn’t that this woman was denied entry into the U.S.,” dos Santos said. “The real horror of it was then she was sent off to a county jail … and she was housed there for 48 hours, having committed no crime and having broken no law.”