Ending years of bureaucratic limbo

5 Jul

Last week Benach Ragland brought two long-term cases to happy conclusions.  On Thursday, the Immigration Judge removed the conditional nature of our client’s residence.  Our client began the process of seeking the removal of conditions in 1996.  On Friday, another Immigration Judge terminated proceedings that the government commenced in 2005 when our client, a twenty year permanent resident returned home to the U.S. after a two week trip to Nigeria.  Both women spent the weekend relaxing knowing that their status as residents was secure.

Thursday was the final hearing for KMC.  KMC came to the U.S. in the late 1980s from Guinea in West Africa.  She was studying to be a nurse when she met MMC, to whom she had an instant attraction.  Although the couple met in a dance club, MMC’s mother always thought that they met at a business function because, as MMC put it, his mother was a “churchlady” who would not like a “”clubgirl.”  MMC knew right away that he wanted to marry KMC and made sure that she and his mother got off on the right foot.  After marriage,they lived together briefly until KMC elected to continue her studies in Maryland so she could become a registered nurse.  MMC petitioned for KMC’s residence, which was granted in 1994.  They traveled between New  York and Maryland to be together; however, when KMC finished her studies and went to work, MMC grew distant.  In 1996, it was time to remove the conditional nature of KMC’s residence.  The law provides that people who have been married for less than two years at the time residence is granted will be provided conditional residence.  Such conditional residence expires two years after residence is granted, at which time, the couple must file another petition to reaffirm the bona fides of the marriage.  If the couple has separated or divorced, they must show that the marriage was bona fide at the time of inception.  Although MMC and KMC had filed their petition to remove the conditions in 1996, they were not interviewed until 1999.  At that time, KMC and MMC had not seen each other for about two years and MMC gave confusing answers regarding their marriage.  Those answers sowed the seeds of doubt for the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service, which argued with KMC for the next 11 years about whether her marriage to MMC was bona fide.  In 2010, the CIS concluded that it was not and placed her into removal proceedings.  KMC finally had her hearing last week.  MMC flew from his new home in Seattle to attend the hearing.  When asked why he thought the marriage fell apart, MMC said that he could not handle that she made more than him and he felt as a failure as a man.  In our opinion, it takes a pretty big man tio state such a thing on the witness stand.  After hearing the testimony, the government’s attorney and the Judge agreed that it had been a bona fide marriage and the petition filed 16 years ago was granted.  Andres Benach represented KMC in court, but the case was won by the investigation and factual analysis performed by Dree Collopy.

The excitement continued on Friday in the case of MD.  MD came to the U.S. to go to school.  She went to undergraduate and attended law school in the U.S.  Fresh out of law school, MD got a job with an immigration lawyer.  Unfortunately, that lawyer was committing fraud and MD did what was asked for her and helped complete forms in support of such fraudulent applications.  MD was charged criminally and convicted of fraud.  She served two years in jail.  After she finished her sentence i n 1993, the then-INS told her that she was not deportable and returned her green card to her.  For the next 12 years, MD built her life back up, using her story as a cautionary tale and becoming a public speaker and prominent member of her community.  She remained with her husband and raised three children.  I have never seen more complete rehabilitation than I have with MD.  In 2005, as she returned to the U.S., MD was stopped and told that she was inadmissible gto the U.S. for conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude.  After 12 years in which she managed to put that shameful episode in her past, it came roaring back.  Under the law as it stood at that time, MD was not eligible for any relief from removal.  As she was in removal proceedings in Baltimore Maryland in the Fourth Circuit, she could not seek a waiver of inadmissibility under former 212(c) because she elected to go to trial.  Had she been in proceedings 50 fifty miles north in York, PA,  she could have sought 212(c) relief, which is not limited in the Third Circuit to those who pleaded guilty.  The Immigration Judge concluded that she was  not eligible for any relief and order her removed.  We took the appeal after Steny Hoyer’s office asked us to take the case.  Eventually, we were at the 4th circuit asking it to reverse itself on the question of pleading versus going to trial.  At that point, the government sought to send the case back to the Immigration Court.  We agreed and when the Supreme Court ruled in Vartelas v. Holder that permanent residents who were convicted of crimes prior to the 1996 passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) could not be charged with inadmissibility after a brief casual and innocent trip abroad, the case against MD was effectively over.    After seven years in which the case went from Immigration Court to the Board of Immigration Appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals back down to the BIA and immigration court, the government came into court on Friday and moved to terminate the case, once again returning MD’s green card and passport.

MD’s case will always remind me of Michael Maggio.  When we sat in Michael’s office and met with MD for the first time, she broke down in tears describing what she had done.  In the way that only Michael could, Michael told her that he was Italian and that in his family going to jail is like going to college- a rite of passage expected of everyone.  MD formed a strong attachment to Michael and I remember having to call her when Michael died and listening to the wailing on the other end.  Now, four years plus after Michael died, MD got what she was looking for when she asked Michael Maggio for help.  And, as a proper tribute,  the Judge to grant the case was Judge Phil Williams, a great friend of Michael’s.

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