In a rare turn of events, a 44-year-old mother of four who was deported to Mexico three years ago gets to return for a hearing before an immigration judge and a shot a legal U.S. residency.

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Three years ago, Ana Reyes was picked up at her Burien apartment by immigration authorities and deported to Mexico.

She took her two American-born daughters with her and left behind a job she loved and a life she’d built after 17 years in this country.

In Mexico City, Reyes’ world crumbled: Her children weren’t in school, she couldn’t find work and, with no permanent place of their own, the family shuffled between the homes of relatives in poor barrios across the city.

This week, in a rare turn of events, the 44-year old sat — meek and obviously nervous before an immigration judge in Seattle, a shot at legal U.S. residency within her grasp after an appeals board ordered her case be reopened.

“This is something I never thought would happen,” she said, a broad smile lighting up her face.

Reyes not only gets to remain in the U.S. legally while her case makes its way through the system, but she is entitled to a permit that allows her to work here legally.

Hers is an unusual outcome. Seldom do illegal immigrants get the chance to return to the United States once deported; removal usually ends any immigration claims they might have here.

But in April, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which hears appeals of decisions by immigration judges, ruled that Reyes, when she still lived here, should at least have been considered for a type of visa available to crime victims who cooperate with criminal investigations.

The U visa is meant to help illegal-immigrant crime victims overcome their fear of contacting police because they worry it may lead to their deportation. In court documents, Reyes recounted years of domestic violence at the hands of her now-former husband — abuse that she did report to police and that led to her husband’s prosecution.

Petition for the so-called U visa might have averted her 2007 deportation, court documents show. And the BIA said failure by her two prior attorneys to pursue it amounted to “ineffective assistance of counsel.”

“I think she has a good case for the U visa,” her current attorney, Henry Cruz, said.

Reyes’ petition for the visa is now pending before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Visas for the current fiscal year have been exhausted and won’t be available until October at the earliest.

At a brief hearing this week, Immigration Judge Kenneth Josephson continued Reyes’ case until Feb. 15. Attorneys representing the Department of Homeland Security offered no objections and have had no comments on this case.

In court documents they have argued that Reyes hadn’t pursued her claim of ineffective counsel with “due diligence,” although they concede she wouldn’t have been deported had her attorneys pursued the U visa, even during the two weeks before she was deported in 2007.

If she’s granted the visa, she could parlay it into a green card and eventually citizenship. She wants to return to the Seattle area, she said, “to do what I did before — work and live here.”

Arrived in 1990

For Reyes, getting back into the United States — even with the BIA ruling — wasn’t automatic.

After weeks of trying by Cruz, U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Laredo, Texas, finally agreed to parole Reyes into the country for the hearing. “When I finally crossed over legally I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

The one-week parole she was granted now has been extended through February, and Cruz said he will pursue employment authorization for her to work here legally.

Reyes first came to Washington with her husband and two young sons in 1990 and the family settled in Eastern Washington, where her boys grew up. Her two daughters were born there.

In 1991, her husband was arrested, convicted, spent two weeks in jail and ordered to take anger-management classes after he beat her. Five years later, neighbors called police after a domestic disturbance and, based in part on her statement to police, her husband was convicted of two counts of fourth-degree assault against her.

He later was deported.

Reyes herself came to the attention of U.S. immigration authorities in 1998 after she was arrested for violating a restraining order. She’d gotten into a fight with another woman with whom she had an ongoing disagreement, and the woman took out a restraining order.

An immigration judge in 2003 ordered her removed from the United States, allowing her to leave voluntarily. She appealed and lost but never left.

Reyes, who was employed as a hotel maid in SeaTac, was arrested in 2007 by an immigration fugitive team at her Burien home on the morning of her 41st birthday. She was later deported. Her sons also were deported, and she later sent for her two U.S.-born daughters to join them in Mexico.

Her arrest and her subsequent struggle to scratch out a living for herself and her children in Mexico were chronicled by The Seattle Times.

Joe Kennard, a developer, philanthropist and former Edmonds resident who learned of Reyes’ life in Mexico through accounts in The Seattle Times, hired Cruz to try to bring her back here legally. He said recently he never doubted it could happen.

Reyes’ older daughter, Julie Quiroz, 15, is living in Texas with Kennard and his wife. Her younger daughter, Sharise, 8, along with Reyes’ two older sons, are all in Mexico.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com