In the last decade, hundreds of thousands of longtime lawful permanent residents have been detained and deported from the United States based on past criminal convictions, without consideration to the nature of the offenses or evidence of rehabilitation, lengthy residence, work history, and strong family ties. Thanks to the efforts of Benjamin Cady '12, Frances Kreimer '12, and Ruben Loyo '11, supervised by clinical fellow Alina Das '05, two lawful permanent residents recently received their day in court and no longer live under the threat of deportation.

Over the last several months, clinic students Cady and Kreimer have represented a lawful permanent resident who faced deportation and permanent separation from her U.S. citizen family after 48 years of residency in the United States. Having lived, worked, and raised her family in the mid-Hudson Valley region of New York for nearly five decades, she was shocked to learn that she was deportable. When immigration officials took her from her home in the summer of 2010, they told her that her old convictions (a 30-year-old non-violent felony and more recent misdemeanor offenses she had received during a traumatic period of homelessness) subjected her to mandatory detention and deportation, and that she had no hope of relief.

The Immigrant Rights Clinic learned about her case from members of her community and agreed to represent her. Cady and Kreimer met with her repeatedly at Monmouth County Correctional Facility in New Jersey, where immigration authorities had detained her for months. After extensive advocacy with the Department of Homeland Security to seek her release, Cady and Kreimer filed a federal habeas petition challenging her unlawful and prolonged detention. Within days of the filing, the Department released her.

“Our client’s case highlights the injustices of immigration detention,” said Kreimer. “Although DHS did not consider our client a flight risk or a danger to her community, neither ICE nor the immigration judge believed they had the authority to release her. As a result, she spent nearly five months in an out-of-state detention facility, receiving inadequate medical care. Such a deprivation of liberty undermines the values of fundamental fairness and due process we study in our doctrinal courses.”

Cady and Kreimer also successfully argued that, contrary to the government’s allegations, their client was eligible for a hearing on “cancellation of removal.” On January 20, 2011, Cady and Kreimer’s client was afforded a full hearing on relief. Cady and Kreimer represented their client at the trial, and the immigration judge granted their client’s application for relief. The government waived its right to appeal, and the client returned home to her community, her lawful permanent resident status in this country secure.

The clinic was also recently involved in the successful termination of a removal case against a lawful permanent resident based on two misdemeanor convictions. For the last two years, clinic student Loyo has represented a young lawful permanent resident who faced deportation to Jamaica, where he faced persecution due to his status as a gay man. His immigration problems began when he returned from a brief trip abroad to attend a relative’s funeral. At John F. Kennedy Airport, his green card and passport were seized based on the border patrol agent’s belief that he was subject to “inadmissibility” due to two misdemeanor convictions—petit larceny and theft of services (referring to allegations of shoplifting and failure to pay a subway fare). For these two convictions, which he received during periods of homelessness and poverty, the client faced deportation without eligibility to seek cancellation of removal. 

“This case was my introduction to the field of criminal-immigration law, and I was shocked to learn that such minor offenses were routinely treated as grounds for deportation,” said Loyo. Last spring, Loyo, along with former IRC student Kulsoom Naqvi '10, filed a motion to terminate the proceedings based on the government’s failure to establish that these convictions were “crimes involving moral turpitude” as required under the law.

Loyo argued the case in the fall, and received the Immigration Judge’s favorable decision early this year, terminating the case against Loyo’s client and ensuring that he retains his lawful permanent resident status. The decision, which criticizes the government’s extreme position, sets the stage of renewed consideration of whether these minor offenses are properly categorized as grounds for removal. The government did not appeal its loss in the clinic’s case, but the issue continues to arise in other immigration court and federal court cases. 

Posted on April 13, 2011