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Feds: Teen injured in Florida pileup won't be deported

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 12:55 PM EST, Thu February 2, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Survivor is "trying to process everything," pastor says
  • Federal agency has no interest in teen's immigration status
  • The girl is in the United States illegally, a church member says; her parents died in the pileup
  • An 11th body is found in the wreckage, authorities say

(CNN) -- The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said Wednesday that an illegal immigrant who was injured and lost most of her family in Sunday's multivehicle wreck in Florida will not face deportation.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Miss Lidiane Carmo as she deals with the tragic loss of her family," ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said. "Reports of her facing deportation are completely false."

"ICE's stated priorities include convicted criminals, immigration fugitives, repeat immigration law violators and recent border crossers," Gonzalez said in a written statement.

Lidiane Carmo, 15, the sole survivor among her immediate family, came to the United States from Brazil when she was only 2, according to a pastor at International Church of the Restoration in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

"She is like any regular American girl. (But) she wasn't born here," the Rev. Aron Amazonas said Wednesday. "She acts like an American girl. She almost can't speak the Portuguese language. She doesn't know the people there."

Church members were concerned that the teen could face deportation.

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Lidiane and five members of her family were part of a church delegation returning Sunday from a conference in Orlando.

Jose Carmo, another pastor at the church; his wife, Adriana; and their daughter Leticia were killed, along with Jose Carmo's brother, Edsom Carmo, who was driving one of the church's vans, and a companion.

"The Carmo family was in the United States illegally," said Alonso Oliveira, a family friend and pastor. "The family wanted to obtain legal status but had no laws to help them do so."

The family stayed in the United States after their visas expired, CNN affiliate WSB reported.

Lidiane, who remains hospitalized, learned Tuesday that her parents and sister had been killed, Amazonas told CNN. "We know she is trying to process everything."

Amazonas said the church's top priority is taking care of Lidiane and sending the bodies of the victims back to Brazil.

"We are shocked with everything that happened with us and this lovely family. We are trying to give them the support they need," he said.

A local high school was scheduled to hold a vigil Wednesday night.

"We could never imagine such tragedy would come, and the whole congregation is totally devastated," said Amazonas.

On Sunday, according to the Carmo family, Florida Gov. Rick Scott visited the girl in the hospital and assured the family that Florida would take case of expenses, including the transportation of the bodies back to Georgia. The girl has no medical insurance.

"The governor gave the family members a phone number to call. They have called the number a few times, with no answer or returned call," a source close to the family told CNN.

On Wednesday, the source told CNN the family had since been contacted by the governor's office.

According to Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham, "On Sunday, Gov. Rick Scott stopped by the Shands Hospital in Gainesville where several victims are being treated for the fatal pileup on 1-75. Gov. Scott wanted to express his condolences and let the families know he was praying for them."

When CNN asked Graham to confirm that the governor promised to take care of financial costs, she declined, saying that the conversations with the accident victims were personal and that she does not have any details about them.

Scott had been set to appear on CNN on Wednesday to discuss the previous night's primary, but his office canceled the interview when told that CNN also would ask about his offer of help to the family. Scott's office said it canceled because the network changed "the terms of the interview just hours" beforehand.

The death toll from the string of crashes on Interstate 75 near Gainesville -- amid heavy smoke from a nearby brush fire -- has risen to 11 with the discovery of another body, the Florida Highway Patrol said. An additional victim was found in a Dodge truck, the highway patrol said in a statement Tuesday. The body was not immediately identified.

The National Weather Service warned that patchy smoke and fog may still be present in the area Wednesday.

The smoke is from a brush fire at the nearby Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The Boardwalk Fire was 100% contained, but smoke could linger for months, Ludie Bond, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Gainesville area, said this week.

Meanwhile, questions remain about the deadly crashes. The Florida Highway Patrol had reopened the section of I-75 where the crashes occurred barely half an hour before the pileup.

The interstate was closed for about three hours earlier Sunday, after a pair of crashes late Saturday on I-75 and nearby U.S. 441, Highway Patrol Lt. Patrick Riordan said Monday. Troopers, the state Department of Transportation and the local sheriff's office reopened the road after determining that conditions were improving, he said.

I-75 reopened at 3:26 a.m. Thirty-three minutes later, callers began to report chain-reaction crashes in both the north and southbound lanes.

Scott has asked the state Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the circumstances behind the crashes.

CNN's Martin Savidge and AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

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