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Immigrant whose family killed faces deportation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A legal immigrant who claims her family was killed in Mexico following her marijuana bust in Kansas will face deportation proceedings even though a judge ordered her release Tuesday on charges related to the drug case.

Norma Quintana fled the U.S. following the deaths of her relatives, and by doing so skipped her 2010 federal trial for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Her attorney said she and her husband were quickly released following their arrest in that case, and that Quintana believes the owners of the seized drugs assumed that meant the couple was cooperating with authorities and attacked her family in retaliation.

Quintana, who has been in custody since she was arrested in April while trying to return to the U.S., was sentenced Tuesday to time served after pleading guilty to failing to appear at the trial. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped the more serious drug charge.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson told the court that immigration authorities would immediately arrest Quintana upon her release. Although she is a legal U.S. resident, she can be deported because she has been convicted of an aggravated felony.

Her attorney unsuccessfully tried to convince federal officials not to file an immigration detainer, to allow her to be free while fighting her deportation.

"She has been a legal resident here since she was a young child," defense attorney Charles O'Hara said. "But because she didn't show up in court, they want to send her back to Mexico where members of her family were killed and abducted."

After the hearing, Anderson said the government agreed to drop the more serious drug charge because of what happened to her family. But he said she will still have to face the consequences of the conviction on her immigration case. He said many drug trafficking cases in cases are connected to violent Mexican drug cartels.

"Our fear is that, absent more aggressive enforcement on both sides of the border, it is only a matter of time before this type of violence shows up in the United States," Anderson said.

Quintana and her husband, Hector Hernandez-Valdez, were initially charged in state court after authorities found 160 pounds of marijuana hidden inside the wheels of the Chevy pickup truck her husband was driving in Pratt County in February 2010, O'Hara said.

The couple was quickly released on bond in the state case, and the charges were later dismissed because federal prosecutors had filed their own drug charges a month later. Hernandez-Valdez also never appeared in court.

A defense filing shows Hernandez-Valdez, Quintana's son and Quintana's brother were killed in Mexico while her drug case was pending. The U.S. attorney's office said its information indicates Quintana's husband and son were fatally shot in April 2010, though it's unclear whether the killings were related to the criminal case in Kansas.

Quintana contends in court documents that her sister and another brother were abducted from their homes in Mexico and she doesn't know if they are still alive.

Anderson said Quintana and her husband didn't cooperate with authorities, noting that the U.S. attorney's office received the case shortly before the killings.