Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Missing Green Card, ICE Ineptitude Trigger 10 Months in ICE Jail

On page 5 of the Spring 2011 issue of the Florence Project's newsletter you'll find this hair-raising story of ICE ineptitude:

Pro Se Client Released After Immigration Mix Up -By Rachel Kling, Eloy Staff Attorney

“Cesar”, a thirty five year old man from El Salvador, was detained by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Eloy Detention Center after being arrested for temporary theft of a vehicle. During his initial interview with an ICE officer, Cesar informed him he was a lawful permanent resident of the United States and that his parents were U.S. citizens. He explained that he came to the United States around the age of nine, settling with his family in California, but traveled back to El Salvador when he was a teenager to get his green card. While in El Salvador, he recalled attending a consulate appointment, getting an HIV test and having his fingerprints taken. He also recalled returning to the United States in an airplane, through the Los Angeles Airport, and thereafter receiving his green card.

When the ICE officer tried to verify Cesar’s claims through the agency’s internal database, it came up blank. According to its records, Cesar had no legal immigration history and no application for a green card had ever been filed. Consequently, Cesar was detained in Eloy and charged as removable by ICE. In his first appearance before an immigration judge, Cesar told the judge he believed he was a lawful permanent resident but he had no documentary evidence to support his claim. Proceeding pro se, Cesar struggled to obtain proof of his legal status. He was unable to access his apartment to get any records and his parents no longer had copies of the application, as it had been filed more than twenty years ago.

Eloy staff attorney Rachel Kling worked with Cesar over the next ten months to try to prove his lawful permanent resident status, knowing it would be an uphill battle with only his word as support. Rachel called several of Cesar’s former employers in California, but none had retained records of his legal work status or were willing to release those records. She then filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and three months later Cesar received a copy of the petition his father had filed for him in 1990. At Rachel’s prompting, ICE then conducted a further investigation, which revealed that Cesar had been a beneficiary of the Family Fairness Program, a temporary program created in the early 1990’s to help children of permanent residents live lawfully in the United States with their parents. This exciting news corroborated the story Cesar had been telling all along.

Cesar’s struggle was not yet over, however, as ICE argued that the application alone did not show he had completed the process of becoming a permanent resident. Rachel helped Cesar file an additional FOIA request and tirelessly contacted the office of the Ombudsman at U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service. After much investigation, the Ombudsman’s office reported that the government had mistakenly assigned two different alien registration numbers to Cesar at some point in his immigration history, hence the inaccurate information about him. Once Rachel learned about the alternate alien registration number, she requested ICE conduct another search. This search revealed that Cesar had indeed become a lawful permanent resident in 1992. After ten months in detention, charges against Cesar were dismissed. While detained, Cesar’s grandfather, who cared for him as a young boy in El Salvador, passed away and his mother suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for several weeks. Cesar is now reunited with his family in California.

[Hats off to attorney Rachel Kling and FIRRP!  Learn more about FIRRP
and then  Please give generously.]

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