Hearing screams of joy on the other end of the line never gets old. This week we won two appeals from the Board of Immigration Appeals. One is for a detained man who will now get a chance to *hopefully* be approved for cancellation of removal as a permanent resident. In that case, the Judge had already indicated that but for the legal issue the BIA reversed her on, she would have approved him for cancellation of removal - which would allow him to remain in the United States as a resident, even though he has removable (deportable) criminal offenses. The legal issue dealt with the federal drug laws and how they make a second simple possession offense an Aggravated Felony (which render a resident ineligible for cancellation of removal). This may seem ridiculous, but its true. At trial, we had argued that because the second possession arrest was before he had been sentenced on the first, he was not a recidivist, and therefore not an Aggravated Felon. The BIA agreed with our argument and sent it back to the Judge to consider her claim for relief from removal, now that his eligibility had been resolved. The worst part of this case for him and his family is that he is detained under the Mandatory Detention law which makes anyone with drug convictions ineligible for release on an immigration bond.
The second case we won at the BIA this week was an asylum case where there was no question that the alien suffered unspeakable abuse in her native country. I honestly can’t even describe what happened to her here - I hated making her relive it to prepare her for trial, and I don’t like thinking about it myself. However, simply suffering atrocities is not enough for asylum protections. One has to show that the abuse was at the hands of the foreign government or a group the government can not or will not control, and that it was on account of one of the enumerated grounds: race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In her case there was also a threshold issue - asylum cases have to be filed within a year of arriving to the US. We were able to convince the BIA that because she had been unable to apply for asylum with her family, and her husband’s case listing her as a derivative was denied, she falsely believed she couldn’t file on her own. Because she filed within a few months of being told by a competent attorney that she could file on her own, the BIA found her application timely. Again, I don’t want to say too much about the facts, but the BIA also overturned the court’s decision that the horrors visited upon her were not on account of one of the enumerated grounds.
The sound of shrieking, happy clients is music to my ears. Not every case turns out like this, making the unlikely victories all the sweeter.
Normally, at the Kansas City Immigration Court, it takes a month or longer to get a trial date scheduled for people who are detained (can be 18 months for non-detained cases). Last week, we had a scheduling hearing on Thursday and asked for the next available time. The Judge graciously gave us her next opening, in six days. Therefore, our employees had to cram a month’s work of work into just six days (of course it was really only 4 because of the weekend). Today we won that trial, and he is home with his family.It was so important to him to get home as quickly as possible, because he was separated from his 8-year-old daughter who needed him and was developing stress-related emotional and physical ailments because of his being detained by immigration. Tonight he could tuck her in, or read her a story, or just sit and be with her for the first time in weeks.
I am incredibly proud of our staff who worked at break-neck speed to get all of the documents prepared. In all of our materials we indicate that we handle emergency cases and this is just another example of our staff pulling together to get a tough job done, and done well, in almost no time at all.
So we have been really busy with people coming in to take advantage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. I have met with lots of children, young adults, and their parents. So far, we don’t have any decisions, but for what its worth, the receipt notices and biometrics notices are all coming in very quickly. According to reports, some approvals are ready to go out (here's hoping some are ours!).
The requirements are fairly straight forward, but because there are no decisions yet to review, no Requests for Evidence, and not all of our questions answered yet, our advice is not at all cookie cutter. We need to carefully review all criminal issues, including tickets, juvenile offenses, trips abroad, and pore over sometimes hundreds of pages of documents to determine eligibility and more importantly (sometimes) whether it makes sense for the individual to risk filing. Sometimes our advice has been to wait and see how the cases are being decided before taking such risks.
As part of the process, we have to ask why they need employment authorization, and the answers are almost universally so that they can continue their education, advance their careers, and/or pay their fair share of family expenses. Most of the students wanted to become Nurses, or go into education programs they can’t get into right now because of a lack of documents, such as Architecture, Engineering, Law School, etc. I am amazed at some of the kids who I have seen who volunteered their time, helped out at home with their siblings, worked part-time, and still made straight A’s. We look forward to finally getting some approvals soon.
One of the tools we often use is post-conviction relief, where we work with a criminal attorney to reopen or amend a conviction to alter it’s immigration impact. For some people, this means simply arguing to a Judge to resentence them at a slightly lower rate (even though it doesn’t impact their probation or time actually in jail) because the difference between a one year sentence and a 364 day sentence (even where all but 2 days were suspended) can be deportation and permanent banishment. Other times we need criminal charges to be reopened, dismissed, or plead down to something else that doesn’t have the same immigration consequences.
Other times, we simply need to demonstrate that even though someone has an old order of deportation, they didn't know about their hearings and therefore should be given an opportunity to fight their cases with actual notice and the ability to appear at their hearings. When the government sends notices to the last address given to them, it can be very difficult to overcome the presumption of normal mail delivery. However, we have been successful with such motions in the past, and nothing is more gratifying than turning the despair we see into hope once again.
On Saturday, August 11, 2012 at 10am we will hold a presentation, free and open to the public, on the new Deferred Action program for DREAMERs. The Obama administrative had indicated that the final rules would be out today, August 1, but so far we have received nothing, we will post updates here. We will meet at the Hilton at 520 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City, KS 66101. We only have the space from 10-12, so please be there promptly at 10 so we can give you all the updates and answer your questions. See you there.