This is the time of year when most people are looking forward to the holidays and spending time with their families. But for many undocumented immigrants and their families, their holiday spirits are being dampened by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) stepped-up arrests and deportation of aliens. Part of DHS’s more aggressive enforcement policy is the issuance of Notices to Appear in immigration court to those whose applications for adjustment of status have been denied. Many others are now in deportation proceedings following raids on businesses.
In addition, a change in Immigration Control and Enforcement’s (ICE) policy has resulted in more undocumented aliens being detained after arrest. Previously, most immigrants who were taken into custody were released either on their own recognizance (based on a promise to appear when and where required to do so) or upon the payment of a bond. However, per ICE records, fewer than a third of persons out of custody who are ordered to leave actually do so. In response, ICE has significantly increased the number of people being held in detention. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 (which ended September 30), 27,883 immigrants were detained nationwide as opposed to the 19,729 people who were detained in FY 2006. As of the end of October 2007, over 30, 000 aliens were detained nationwide. In California, 3,716 aliens were detained in FY 2007 as opposed to 3,207 in FY 2006. At the end of October 2007, almost 4,000 immigrants were detained in California alone.
There is, of course, a correlation between the increase in the number of people detained and the number of people being deported. The number of undocumented aliens and non-citizens deported rose from 177,000 nationwide in FY 2005 to more than 261,000 in FY 2007.
The temporary closure of the San Pedro Detention Center and San Pedro Immigration Court has added a complication to this situation. The facility was closed last month for maintenance. The detainees were scattered throughout the country. Despite the fact that the immigrants live with their families in Southern California and that their lawyers are located in Southern California. Aliens have been sent to facilities as far away as Arizona, Texas and Alabama. Prior to the closure of the San Pedro facility, some immigrants were asked to sign documents agreeing to their transfer to far-off facilities. Immigrants were also asked to sign documents agreeing to their immediate deportation and removal from the United States. Because many of these people did not have legal representation and did not fully understand the rights, they probably just gave up and signed what was placed in front of them.
The courts have held that when an immigrant, his attorney and witnesses are located in a particular area, it is improper to change the court’s location. There are good reasons for this. Applications for relief from removal (deportation) require more than just the submission of a document. A defense has to be properly and thoroughly documented in order to be successful. It should include relevant oral testimony from witnesses who have knowledge of the pertinent facts, and witnesses are usually located in the same town or city as the alien applying for relief. When aliens are transferred from that geographic area, it interferes with the presentation of their case. That is why an experienced immigration lawyer should fight to prevent or undo the transfer of the client.
It goes without saying that no one should sign any document that affects their ability to stay in the U.S. or agree to a transfer to a different geographic location without knowing the full ramifications. If the transfer has already occurred, it can be reversed. Because these are hard times fraught with dangers for undocumented aliens, it is important for those who are out of status or have a criminal conviction to consult with an immigration lawyer with experience in the practice of deportation defense.
Author's Note: The analysis and suggestions offered in this column do not create a lawyer-client relationship and are not a substitute for the individual legal research and personalized representation that is essential to every case.
Atty. Reeves has represented clients in numerous landmark immigration cases that have set new policies regarding INS action and immigrants' rights. His many successes have been published in Interpreter Releases, Immigration Briefings and AILA Monthly which are nationally recognized immigration periodicals widely read by immigration lawyers, State Department and immigration officials. His cases are also cited in text books as a guide to other immigration practitioners.
His offices are located in Pasadena, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Makati City. Telephone: 759-6777