Case Histories: Our Clients in Removal Proceedings
Here are some brief accounts of how we have worked to defend our clients who are facing deportation. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of these clients.
1. Eduardo (El Salvador): His aunt came to us several years ago about Eduardo. He fled cartel violence in Honduras after being targeted by a drug cartel that told him he was next on the their “list” shortly after he witnessed a another young man being gunned down in the streets of his remote village. He was arrested by the Border Patrol after entering the US. His aunt obtained the services of an attorney who was waiting outside the courtroom during Eduardo's first hearing in the Los Angeles Court. However, the attorney did nothing to advance the case. Russell, one of our accredited representatives, was able to obtain documents supporting the case and developed a solid defense. Russell and Eduardo went to an asylum hearing in Anaheim where the case was presented before an asylum hearing officer. Several weeks later we received confirmation that the USCIS had recommended Eduardo for asylum. The judge closed the case which was won without any assistance for the do-nothing attorney. Several years later we filed documents for adjustment of status enabling Eduardo to get a green card. He is doing well and is now working on the East Coast. This case involved at least 100 hours of time on our part, but we charged nothing for these services.
2. Silvia and her young son Ricardo fled gang violence in El Salvador and entered the United States seeking asylum. She came to us for help, and we secured the services of Janet McGinnis, a well-known local attorney who offered her services on a pro bono basis. Anahi Mendoza helped interview Silvia, with follow-up interviews by IMPORTA employees. IMPORTA prepared Silvia’s I-589 asylum application and instructed her how to file it with the LA court within the one-year deadline. The case is still pending.
3. Julia and her young daughter Alicia suffered life-threatening domestic violence by her husband in a remote Guatemala indigenous community where there was no police protection of any kind. They fled to the United States in 2016. IMPORTA was contacted by a family member already in the United States. We gathered evidence in the case, and worked with Julia to file asylum forms I-589 with the Los Angles court before the one-year deadline. Janet McGinnis agreed to take over the the mother and daughter's defense in immigrtion court on a pro bono basis. The case is still pending.
4, Sebastian: This young man fled Venezuela after receiving death threats from a terrorist group supporting the Chavez government because Sebastian led student demonstrations against the government. He came to our office seeking help in 2017. Russell gathered extensive evidence from Juan and from Venezuela, substantiating the threats against his life and the dangers of his returning to Venezuela. Russell accompanied him to his asylum hearing in Anaheim. After presentation of all the evidence, the hearing officer stated that he would recommend Juan for asylum. But he also warned that due to the new administration's policies all his recommendations were sent up to higher officials who often overruled his recommendations. Several months passed, and instead of approval or denial, Sebastian was summoned to a second hearing with a hardline official who recommended against asylum and placed Sebastian removal proceedings in the LA court. IMPORTA then obtained he services of a pro bono attorney from the Brownstein law firm, and is now providing paralegal services to the attorney in support of Juan’s case which is pending in immigration court. This is another case that required dozens of hours of work on our part.
5. Vincente and his wife and young child fled Honduras after he was shot and severely wounded for failing to pay a “tax” to a drug cartel in El Salvador. The family entered the US in 2018, seeking asylum, and was placed in deportation proceedings. Vincente came to IMPORTA for help. IMPORTA prepared forms I-589 and instructed Vincente on how to file the case with the LA court which he was able to do just one day before the one-year deadline. We are helping him gather evidence and are seeking legal defense for him.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Cases
6. Sergio, a 16 year old minor from Guatemala, entered the US with entered with Julia and her daughter (whose asylum case was summarized above). We decided that Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) was a better option than asylum for Sergio. The pro bono attorney we frequently work with, Janet McGinnis, agreed to guide Sergio's guardianship case through the Santa Maria Probate court which handles guardianship cases. The court approved the guardianship and also issued the required findings of fact (that Sergio was abandoned and neglected, and that it was not in his interest to be returned to his home country). Based on the guardianship and the findings of fact we filed the application for SIJS with the USCIS in2017. All SIJS applications from Guatemala have been have been put in a wait list, and the ICE prosecutor in the LA immigration court moved to schedule the merits hearing without waiting for the USCIS decision. IMPORTA worked with Ms McGinnis to prepare a response and counter motion which asked for the case to be administratively closed pending the USCIS decision. The judge not only ruled against the ICE prosecutor, but also administratively closed the case, which is extremely rarely seen because of pressure from the adminsitration to speed up merits hearings.
7. Kim, a student from South Korea: IMPORTA received a call in 2016 from a lawyer at UCSB asking for help in gaining legal status for a 20-year old Korean student, who we will call Kim. This is not a deportation case, because she entered on a tourist visa which she overstayed. However, the process of obtaining SIJS is almost identical as that for Sergio who was in the Los Angeles Court. We determined that she qualified for SIJS status because she had been abandoned by both her parents. Her mother had abandoned her father (who is a deep sea fisherman absent for months) when she was a child. She went to live with her grandparents, but when they passed away she left Korea at age 7 to live with her father’s new wife in Samoa, where she did not know the language and was treated as an outsider. When she reached age 15, her father and his Samoan wife had separated and she decided to return to Korea, but she had no family there and was unable to adapt. As she had learned English in an American school in Samoa she came to the US on a tourist visa. After being taken in by a Korean family, she finished high school and was accepted at UCSB. Again we used the services of Janet McGinnis who understands the guardianship procedures well. She succeeded in getting the case through our local Santa Barbara Probate Court which handles guardianship cases. We then completed and filed the SIJS application.
However, the Trump administration challenged SIJS for applicants between the ages of 18 and 21, and it took two years of litigation before it was ruled that under California law, persons were eligible to be placed under the care of a guardian up till age 21. Once that ruling was made we were able to file an application for adjustment of status for Ms Yoon who now has a green card. That has been approved, and IMPORTA handled her Adjustment of Status cases which was successful so that she now has a green card.
SIJS as a path to legality for abandoned, neglected, or abused unaccompanied minors is an important tool for helping deserving minors achieve legal status is further discussed below.
Other Cases Involving Our Clients in Immigration Court
8. Angel: Angel is the undocumented child who, together with his brother and sister, were sexually abused by their father who was a legal permanent resident. Angel reported his father to the police, and the father was arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to state prison many years ago. Although Angel's brother and sister were able to find a path to legalization, Angel suffered from severe depression and alcoholism, and failed to apply for the protection he was entitled to under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which provides a 5-year window of opportunity for applying. Angel became homeless, and was arrested and sent to the county jail for being drunk in public, a common charge against homeless people. The Santa Barbara County jail, which at the time was fully cooperating with ICE, released him to be arrested by ICE, who placed him in removal proceedings in the Los Angeles court. Fortunately, he was released with an ankle bracelet pending trial in immigration court. Angel came to our office, and an analysis of the case revealed that although he was not eligible to file for VAWA, he was eligible for a defense called VAWA Cancelation of Removal which covered victims of domestic violence by US Citizens. Janet McGinnis agreed to take the case pro bono. IMPORTA worked with Janet by providing interpreters and translators and advising on the preparation of a motion for VAWA cancellation of removal. Ms McGinnis not only helped Eddie win his case in immigration court but also helped him get into a rehabilitation program, and also helped him get alcohol-related offenses dismissed in local courts.
Ms McGinnis is handling three other cases in immigration court involving our clients. Two involve males who were placed in the Santa Barbara jail on minor charges, later dropped, but upon their release they were immediately arrested by ICE who had been notified, and placed in deportation proceedings. In one case there is a possibility of adjustment of status, because the wife is a U.S. citizen. In the other case the defense is a pending U Visa application. Their best hope for avoiding deportation is a change in immigration court policies under the new administration. The third case involves a young man who had a juvenile record and was placed on the local gang database. Unfortunately he has not avoided engaging in petty crime and it is likely that he will be deported. gang data
Ms McGinnis has also successfully handled bond hearings for our clients in detention in the Adelanto High Desert ICE detention center.
We have seen cases in which applicants for asylum were deported due to inadequate representation by counsel. The most egregious is that of a minor from Guatemala ("Carla") whose family (already living in Sana Barbara) paid $5,000 to a lawyer on the list of lawyers recommended by the facility where Carla was held prior to being released to the care of her family here. The attorney never spoke with Carla and her only contact with the law firm was a 15 minute phone interview with an assistant in the attorney's office. The attorney failed to attend any of Carla's court hearings, and even failed to attend the USCIS hearing in Anaheim. This resulted in a USCIS recommendation against asylum, and Carla's s final merits hearing in the LA court was scheduled for ten days later, Since the court almost always follows the USCIS recommendation it was clar that Carla was about to be ordered deported. We offered to have a motion filed for inadequate representation by counsel, but we never heard back from Carla and her family, but later learned that she had been deported.
One of IMPORTA’s key goals is to ensure that persons placed in removal proceedings have access to honest and qualified legal defense or, at the very least, receive an accurate an in-depth analysis of their case against deportation and avoid at all costs becoming the victim of legal malpractice. Return to How We Help page.