A Hagerstown grandmother who allegedly entered the United States illegally is in the custody of federal agents awaiting deportation to Mexico, an official from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement said Friday.
Josefina Rodriguez-Vega, 60, whose last known address was 1401 Haven Road in Hagerstown, will be deported after failing to adhere to an immigration judge's order to leave the United States before Jan. 5, according to an ICE news release.
Nicole A. Navas, an ICE spokeswoman, said Rodriguez-Vega was arrested by ICE agents in Hagerstown on Jan. 12. She said ICE does not release deportation dates for security reasons.
"Right now, she is in our custody pending removal," Navas said.
Rodriguez-Vega is considered an ICE enforcement priority because of her fugitive status and previous criminal misdemeanor convictions, the release said.
On Sept. 7, 2011, an immigration judge in Baltimore granted Rodriguez-Vega voluntary departure until Jan. 5, 2012, according to ICE. Agents said she failed to comply, then removed and destroyed a detention ankle bracelet. The act made her an ICE fugitive.
Rodriguez-Vega has been cited with several misdemeanor driving violations in Washington County since 2008, according to court records. Those violations primarily included driving without a license and driving with a suspended license.
The most recent local driving violation occurred Sept. 30, 2011, or about three weeks after Rodriguez-Vega was ordered to leave the country. Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said that citation was issued when an electronic tag reader recorded Rodriguez-Vega driving with a suspended license in the 600 block of Northern Avenue.
"She apparently was insistent on driving around with a suspended license," Smith said. "I think describing her as law-abiding would be a little inaccurate."
But some of the people who know Rodriguez-Vega came to her defense Friday, saying she was a harmless grandmother who attends church regularly.
The Rev. Tad Mich, who celebrates a Spanish-language Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Halfway, said Rodriguez-Vega has attended the church for the past three or four years.
"She is a grandmother, coming every Sunday to church with her grandchildren, taking care of them. She is a good woman," Mich said.
He said Rodriguez-Vega cleaned homes and small businesses to help earn money for her family.
Luis Pena, who serves as the Hispanic contact at St. Joseph's, said Rodriguez-Vega came to the United States six years ago for a better life.
She played with children during Mass to help keep them occupied, he said.
Pena said Rodriguez-Vega's friends have been trying to keep her in the country. On Wednesday, they staged a protest outside ICE headquarters in Baltimore to fight her deportation.
He said Rodriguez-Vega came to this country to join her daughter, two sons and four grandchildren.
"Her family came here," Pena said. "She's not hurting this government. She was just working for her family."
Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said his office called ICE when Rodriguez-Vega was booked at the Washington County Detention Center on a driving violation.
Mullendore said Rodriguez-Vega was driving a commercial vehicle when she was stopped by the Maryland State Police.
"I think it was her second or third time being stopped," Mullendore said. "She did not have a license."
It is county policy that anyone who is arrested is checked against the ICE database, Mullendore said. If someone is found to be in the United States illegally, the county notifies ICE, and ICE may then put a detainer on that person for deportation, as it did in this case, he said.
Staff Writer Heather Keels contributed to this story.