Deported Grandmother Case Exposes Risks of Legal Maze

An Ecuadorean family is adjusting to life without its matriarch. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Every morning, 14-year-old César Jr. ate breakfast with his mother, who would then walk him to school. “Now I go to school without anyone to say goodbye to or to hug,” said the teenager, who is a U.S. citizen and whose Ecuadorean mother was deported on Friday.

César’s sister Elena, 20, who works and studies, also ­laments the fact that her mother is no longer with her to help her with her 1-year-old son. “Now that she isn’t with me, I have to go through this alone, and it’s not easy.” While they miss their mother, the siblings – who asked us not to disclose their full identity – miss their confidante more than anything.

Naomi, as they chose to call her for this article, arrived in New York in the early 1990s. In 1993, before she met her future husband and had children, she was arrested for working as a seamstress in a Manhattan factory without a work permit.

Four years ago, the family decided to find an immigration lawyer who could help her obtain legal status. At the time, they did not know that free legal assistance was available for immigrants in New York City, as the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) had just launched its pilot program.

“We talked to a number of lawyers,” said Naomi’s husband, César Sr., 46. He added that they wanted to make sure not to fall into the “10-year scam,” a fraudulent scheme some service providers and immigration attorneys are promoting through misleading advertising saying that immigrants can obtain a visa or permanent residency status if they have been living in the U.S. for 10 years.

The family hired Alex Arandia, a lawyer they frequently saw in the media warning about scams committed against immigrants and who advertised himself on the radio. “He was the only one who said that (Naomi’s) case could be opened,” said César Sr.

Arandia found that Naomi had an open deportation order for the 1993 arrest, and recommended the couple file a motion to reopen the case, which was denied. The lawyer appealed the decision and applied for an I-246 permit – usually valid for one year – to temporarily halt the deportation order until the legal process was finished. That petition was denied too and, worse, when Naomi showed up at the 26 Federal Plaza immigration offices, ICE detained her.

Dissatisfied with the lawyer’s job, César Sr. hired a different one while his wife was being held. However, during the switch, Naomi was deported and she is now in Ecuador with her parents.

In total, the family spent nearly $8,000 in legal fees. “Many people say that the lawyer was negligent,” said César Sr. After speaking to other people during the time his wife was detained, he concluded that Arandia “should not have opened the case.”

The attorney defended his decision, however, saying that his law firm successfully opens 80 percent of all cases. “When you have a deportation order, the best you can do is try to reopen the case,” said Arandia in a phone interview, adding that failing to do this makes immigrants live in constant fear of being deported.

Under the administration of Barack Obama, ICE agents were ordered to use discretion to avoid enacting deportation orders against people who had lived in the U.S. for a long time and who had close familial and community ties. Still, the Donald Trump administration has ordered that all immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally be a priority for deportation.

Anthony Enríquez, an attorney with the Immigrant Defense Project, said that the discretion applied during the Obama administration was not “safe” either. Obama ended up deporting more immigrants than any other president before him.

“In general terms, we disagree with the idea that cases of people who have a deportation order should always be opened,” said Enríquez, who added: “Why would you give ICE a piece of paper saying ‘I’m here’?”

“It breaks my heart to know that the woman who raised me is not coming back,” said César Jr., who is now focusing on his studies because his mother’s most cherished wish was to see him graduate.

El Diario attempted several times to obtain a statement from ICE about Naomi’s case, but our requests were not answered.

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