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Updated Apr 17, 2014 - 1:25 pm

Phoenix inmate with breast cancer released to undergo surgery

PHOENIX -- An inmate with breast cancer was released from a Phoenix jail Thursday morning in order to receive lifesaving surgery.

Ruth Alvarez walked out of the Lower Buckeye Jail after agreeing to a plea deal with Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. Family members, including her 18-year-old daughter, and several supporters showed up to greet her.

"I'm very happy and very thankful. I never expected this much support," Alvarez said. "I prayed for this moment."

Alvarez, who has been living in the country illegally, was arrested April 1 for allegedly using someone else's identity to obtain work. Her attorney, Jose Penalosa, and prosecutors agreed Tuesday that she would plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge and serve a year of unsupervised probation. Alvarez entered the plea Wednesday.

She had nothing but kind words for Montgomery.

"I feel he's a very good person. He is like one of my angels to give me a chance to fight for my life," said Alvarez, who planned to return home before heading to a hospital.

She was scheduled to undergo a mastectomy April 23, which can proceed as planned. Alvarez had already received chemotherapy before her arrest, according to her daughter. Indira Alvarado said her mother's tumor has shrunk significantly, and they are hopeful about the mastectomy.

Alvarado said she was shocked when she learned her mother would get to come home. Seeing Alvarez, who also has a 4-year-old son, try to cope in jail the past few weeks was beyond stressful, Alvarado said.

"It was heartbreaking to see her battling a potentially terminal illness behind bars without proper care or proper hygiene," Alvarado said.

As for her immigration status, Alvarez won't have to worry about deportation for now. Penalosa said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials agreed to not detain her or pursue criminal action for now. If they decide to initiate a removal case in the future, he said Alvarez would likely be released on her own recognizance.

"She could also be eligible for relief through 'cancellation of removal,' " said Penalosa, referring to an application to halt immigration-removal proceedings.

An immigration judge can grant cancellation for someone who has been in the U.S. for 10 years or more if their removal would result in exceptional hardship for a spouse or children who are legal residents.

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