REMOVAL PROCEEDINGS TERMINATED IN CHARGED “AGGRAVATED FELONY” CASE BY PROVING CLIENT IS ACTUALLY A U.S. CITIZEN

A skilled immigration attorney can avoid his client’s deportation for an aggravated felony conviction by proving his client is actually a U.S. citizen, and so is not in fact subject to deportation.  Many individuals placed in deportation proceedings by ICE mistakenly believe they are permanent residents, and fear their criminal conviction will subject them to deportation.   In many instances, the Notice to Appear, the charging document filed against them in Immigration Court, alleges their conviction is classified as an “aggravated felony”. An aggravated felony conviction renders permanent residents ineligible for most forms of relief, and in most cases will result in deportation.

If you were born in the U.S., it is easy to demonstrate you are a U.S. citizen.  However, if a child is not born in the U.S., but has a U.S. citizen parent, or a parent who naturalized when the client was still a minor, a complex inquiry must be performed to determine if the person is actually a U.S. citizen.  In certain instances a child born outside the U.S. may acquire U.S. citizenship at the time of their birth, based upon their parent or parents’ status as a U.S. citizen; in other instances, the person may derive U.S. citizenship when a parent or parents naturalize, if the child was a minor at that time, without anyone even realizing it.

At the Terezakis Law Firm, we carefully analyze the immigration history of each of our clients placed into removal proceedings, to determine whether or not they are actually U.S. citizens.  Although ICE is required to do this, they often do not check carefully and sometimes mistakenly detain and try to deport someone who is actually a U.S. citizen.  An Immigration Judge recently granted our motion to terminate our client’s removal proceedings after we demonstrated he had acquired status as a U.S. citizen through his parents, and so was not in fact subject to deportation, despite his criminal conviction.  As a result, our client, a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, no longer lives under the threat of deportation, and can live his life in peace here in the United States.

Grant of Cancellation of Removal for Non-Permanent Resident Falsely Accused of Gang Membership

Our client’s former companion falsely accused him of being an MS-13 gang member, and of physically abusing her for many years.  The complaints she filed against him in Family and Criminal Court days after he ended their long term relationship resulted in his being picked up by ICE and placed into deportation-removal  proceedings.

At his deportation hearing, we methodically rebutted these false and vicious allegations. We introduced into evidence records from her psychiatric hospital admissions which revealed a history of physical abuse by her former husband, but made no mention of any misconduct by our client.  In fact, they showed she was depressed and suicidal since he had left her, and that her greatest fear was that he would try to gain custody of their son.

We demonstrated her refusal to seek treatment for her mental health issues had driven our client to leave her, and that since he had left, her drinking had increased, and so placed their son at risk.

Our evidence established our client had been a valued employee of the same company for ten years; that he paid his taxes; that he spent his free time caring for, his disabled son; and that his church and his religious beliefs were central to his life. A petition from his church vouched for his good moral character, and stated there was no reason to believe he had ever been involved in any misconduct or gang activity.

The Immigration Judge concluded the allegations of gang membership were untrue; the claims of abuse had no basis in fact; the charges were brought out of vindictiveness and had been dismissed; and that our client was a good person who had been unable to cope with his companion’s long-standing mental illness.

The Judge also found the medical records we submitted documented our client’s son’s severe physical and mental disabilities, and that he would suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if his father was deported.  He was granted cancellation of removal:  we saved him from deportation and he gained status as a lawful permanent resident.

An experienced criminal immigration attorney knows you can never win a case by ignoring or running from false allegations.  You must fight them head on, rebut the charges, and show the Court the truth of who your client is and why he deserves to remain in the United States. We do this to keep our clients and their families together. It is never easy, but it is always rewarding.

CANCELLATION OF REMOVAL: TWO TRIALS, TWO SECOND CHANCES!

For lawful “permanent” residents, a criminal conviction often means deportation, banishment from this country and permanent separation from their family and friends. Fortunately, the immigration laws provide the opportunity to seek a  “second chance” for long term permanent residents with certain convictions.  The first battle is to demonstrate our client’s eligibility for this relief; once that battle is won,  the client must have a trial: referred to as an “individual” or a “merits” hearing, before an Immigration Judge, with a prosecutor who represents ICE.

With certain narrow exceptions, a conviction for any controlled substance offense renders a non-citizen deportable.  As a result of the opioid epidemic, and the widespread use of marijuana, many permanent residents will be placed into deportation-removal proceedings as the result of mistakes made, often many years in their past.

It is important to have an experienced criminal-immigration attorney defending these types of cases. Many immigration attorneys know how to prepare family based petitions, but lack trial experience. They feel nervous in the courtroom and are unfamiliar with how to try a case.  Others may have experience in Immigration Court, but have no foundation in criminal law and so do not understand the complex interplay between criminal and immigration law. Only an advocate experienced in both criminal and immigration law can guide you through these troubled waters. The Terezakis Law Firm has this expertise. Last week we won 2 trials in 3 days and brought our clients home.  Most importantly, we convinced the government to accept the Judges’ decisions as final, and so our clients were spared the expense and uncertainty of an appeal.

In the first case, our client stumbled into a major narcotics conspiracy after doing a friend “a favor” by buying him some cocaine.  He was one of 20 persons named in a  36 count indictment, which appeared to charge each defendant as a “Major Narcotics Trafficker”.  Careful review of the 100 paragraphs which described the criminal conduct in the single count which named our client, revealed he was never charged as a “Major Trafficker”, and  that only 2 paragraphs even referenced him: one involved his call to arrange the purchase, and the other, the purchase.   Had we not clarified the minor and tangential involvement of our client at the outset of the hearing,  it is unlikely the Judge would have ever considered the favorable evidence: our client’s history of working on the books and paying his taxes; his close and supportive relationship with his U.S. citizen children; his ties to his community; his modest lifestyle; his good moral character and his genuine remorse for his misconduct.

Our second client, also a permanent resident, was nearly rendered ineligible for cancellation of removal after his prior attorney negotiated a plea to an offense which would have been classified as a drug trafficking aggravated felony. Our client sought our counsel after pleading guilty to possession of a controlled substance, because he feared he might be deported.  He had pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine, but was advised the specific subdivision involved possession with intent to sell – which would be considered a drug trafficking aggravated felony. Our review of his plea minutes established he never admitted any intent to sell, and so we were able to vacate his guilty plea.  Our client ultimately re-pleaded to simple possession, as a felony, which preserved his eligibility for cancellation of removal.

By the time of his deportation hearing, 10 years had passed since his misconduct, and he never again violated the law.  We submitted proof of his successful completion of a drug treatment program shortly after his arrest, as well as the results of six months of recent drug testing which confirmed he had indeed stopped using any drugs.  We also documented his severe disability, due to a work related accident, with medical records and post-operative reports. In the end, his extensive family ties, the evidence of his rehabilitation, the severity of his disability, and his continued need for medical treatment in the U.S., tipped the balance and convinced the Judge and government attorney he deserved a grant of cancellation of removal. If his initial plea had not been vacated, however, he certainly would have been deported.

In each case, our client accepted responsibility for his actions; he pleaded guilty and served his sentence. Most importantly, we were able to demonstrate that on balance, our client deserved a second chance. At the Terezakis Law Firm,  our experience in criminal-immigration law, and in trying these hardest of cases, ensures our clients have the best possible chance of being granted a second chance to remain in the United States. After all, what is more American than a second chance for someone who deserves it?

Impact Of DWI Conviction on Non-Citizens in Deportation

Matter of Siniauskas, 27 I&N Dec. 207 (BIA 2-2-18)
Analysis & Suggestions for the Criminal Defense Bar

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) hears appeals from the U.S. Immigration Courts. A non-citizen may appeal from an Immigration Judge’s (IJ’s) order of deportation; other times the government may appeal an IJ’s order finding the person is not in fact deportable; or they may appeal an order granting discretionary relief from deportation. The BIA also hears appeals of IJ’s bond decisions. Precedent decisions, such as that in Siniauskas, must be followed by all IJ’s, unless there is contrary, controlling, precedent from the Circuit Court of Appeals with jurisdiction over where the deportation proceedings take place.

Matter of Siniauskas, decided earlier this month, involves an appeal by the government from an IJ’s decision granting Siniauskas release from custody while his deportation proceedings were pending, upon posting a $25,000.00 bond. While Siniaukas was in fact undocumented, he was eligible for relief from deportation in the form of adjustment of status based on an approved visa petition that his U.S. citizen daughter had filed on his behalf. In addition to his daughter, he had his lawful permanent resident wife and other longstanding and deep ties to his community.

The government appealed the IJ’s bond decision. They argued Siniauskas’s three (3) DWI convictions from approximately ten years prior to his detention by ICE, combined with his pending DWI charge, demonstrated he presented a danger to the community and should have been denied bond while his removal proceedings were pending. In reversing the IJ’s decision, the BIA ruled his history of prior convictions for DWI, coupled with his pending DWI prosecution, indicated he presented a danger to the community; undercut his claims of rehabilitation; and warranted detention during his deportation proceedings.

This decision is part of a trend toward increasingly harsh treatment by immigration authorities of individuals convicted of, or in some instances, simply charged with, driving while intoxicated. While Siniauskas may not present as the most sympathetic figure, it is anticipated IJ’s will use the decision to justify denying release to other non-citizens with a pending DWI prosecution, or with prior DWI convictions, despite what may be stronger equities than those presented by Siniauskas. The decision is also notable because, under the immigration laws, a conviction for DWI, in and of itself, does not render a lawful permanent resident subject to deportation, nor does it render inadmissible someone who is otherwise eligible to gain status as a lawful permanent resident. In fact, a conviction for DWI is not even one of the criminal offenses enumerated at §236(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), which details the convictions that subject non-citizens to mandatory detention during their deportation proceedings.

Release under bond during deportation proceedings is of critical importance if the client is to have the best chance of winning his case.  For those otherwise eligible for some form of discretionary relief, a charge or conviction for DWI is considered a substantial negative factor and weighs heavily against an IJ exercising his discretion in favor of permitting the person to remain in the U.S.. Deportation proceedings for detained individuals are customarily concluded within months, whereas those involving individuals released under bond routinely take years. A client at liberty under bond has the opportunity to seek, and complete, treatment, and thereby demonstrate genuine rehabilitation. This will provide the client’s deportation defense1 attorney a far better chance of convincing the Immigration Judge his client merits a favorable exercise of discretion.

If defense counsel understands his client will eventually be placed into deportation proceedings – either at the conclusion of his prosecution for his DWI case, or while on probation – he can work from the outset of his representation to prepare his client for his future deportation proceedings. This is of critical importance whether the client is undocumented, or, a lawful permanent resident with a previous conviction that renders him deportable. By ensuring the client enrolls in, and if possible completes, counseling while the DWI charge is pending, defense counsel increases the likelihood that if placed into deportation proceedings, the IJ will find the client has demonstrated sufficient rehabilitation that he should not be considered a danger to the community and should be granted release under bond.

Release under bond not only affords the client the ability to remain with his family, and to work to fund the defense of his deportation proceedings, but in addition, it affords the client additional time within which to demonstrate rehabilitation, and to accrue favorable equities. The greater the time between the non-citizen’s last arrest, and the time when the IJ must decide whether to permit the person to remain in this country, the greater the chance the judge will find rehabilitation.

In order to demonstrate rehabilitation, the client should promptly enroll in a recognized treatment program. If held in custody during his criminal prosecution, determine whether the jail has any type of alcohol counseling program, and if so, have the client enroll. If it appears he must serve time in jail – try to negotiate a period of in-patient treatment in lieu of extended incarceration. If that is not possible, ask that he be placed in the DWI dorm, or be afforded treatment while in custody.

If the person is at liberty but will ultimately plead guilty and receive a sentence of incarceration or of probation, delay taking the plea in order to afford the client the chance to complete treatment. In the alternative, negotiate a plea where the client will remain at liberty after pleading guilty, so he can complete his treatment prior to sentencing. A sentence to a conditional discharge, as opposed to one of incarceration or probation, will often forestall the client being placed into deportation, and so provide additional time for the client to demonstrate rehabilitation. Ideally the program should include random screening for alcohol and controlled substances; test results and counseling updates should be saved, as these will provide corroboration for the client’s later claims of abstinence.

While this advisory is geared toward DWI cases, the importance of demonstrating rehabilitation holds true irrespective of whether the client’s underlying problem is with alcohol, drugs, or domestic violence. While counseling is generally helpful for most of our clients, when the client is a non-citizen, it becomes imperative. The recalcitrant client needs to understand that completing counseling will not only help him in his life, and with his criminal case, but it may also enable him to gain release under bond if he is detained by ICE.  Ultimately, by demonstrating rehabilitation, the client may avoid the life altering hardship which follows detention and deportation.

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[1] Although Congress, in true Orwellian form, renamed it “removal” proceedings in 1996, it remains what is historically known as “deportation” proceedings. We should not strip these proceedings of the historical context surrounding the word “deportation”; we should call it what it is, because deportation may result in: “the loss of both property and life, or of all that makes life worth living.” We should never forget that.  Justice Brandeis, Ng Fung Ho v. White, 259 U.S. 276, 284 (1922).

 

Lecture: Best Practices for Avoiding Claims of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel When Defending Non-Citizens in Criminal Proceedings

Earlier this week, George A. Terezakis, Esq. presented a lecture, at the Nassau County Bar Association, which provided the criminal defense bar with guidance on the best practices for criminal defense lawyers when defending non-citizens.  The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Padilla v. Kentucky requires defense attorneys to ascertain and advise their non-citizen clients of the direct immigration consequences of any proposed plea agreement, or of conviction after trial.

Criminal convictions can result in: detention, loss of legal status, deportation and permanent separation from the client’s family.  Knowledge of the interplay between criminal and immigration law, and guidance from an experienced “crimmigration” attorney, can enable defense counsel to craft a plea agreement which avoids or minimizes adverse immigration consequences.  This permits the client to make an informed decision as to whether to accept a proposed plea agreement, or to exercise their right to go trial.

“V” is for Victory! Terezakis Firm Wins for July 2017

Withdrawal of Aggravated Felony Charge After 12 Years & 3 Appeals:

To win deportation-removal cases, you must be tenacious; have a legal theory supported by the law, and keep fighting, even if you lose initially. Our client, a long term lawful permanent resident was charged with being removable for having been convicted of an aggravated felony.  Unfortunately, the elements of the aggravated felony he was charged with were not defined under the immigration law. During the 12 years we litigated his case, he was ordered deported 3 times, and 3 times we appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals: each time, due to errors by the court, his case was remanded. Finally, in a different case, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision which adopted the same arguments we had raised from the outset. Using that new precedent, we filed a fourth motion to terminate, and after 12 years the government finally conceded we were correct and withdrew the aggravated felony charge. When we shared the news with my client and his wife, he literally cried with joy.

GRANT OF N.A.C.A.R.A. RELIEF UNDER HEIGHTENED STANDARD

As a result of the settlement in the American Baptist Church class action lawsuit, Congress passed the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act, which sought to remedy I.N.S.’s history of unfairly denying Central American’s asylum claims. The N.A.C.A.R.A. made it easier for members of this class to gain status as lawful permanent residents, and also allowed members of the class with certain criminal convictions to still become residents, provided they were able to demonstrate a heightened standard of hardship, and to show ten years of good moral character.  After a successful appeal; the passage of the ten years necessary to demonstrate his good moral character and rehabilitation; we won his hearing and he was granted status as a lawful permanent resident.

TWO MOTIONS TO RE-OPEN DEPORTATION ORDERS GRANTED

Our client, a long term lawful permanent resident, was rendered deportable as the result of his conviction for possessing a controlled substance.  His previous attorney was relieved by the Court, and when he failed to appear in Court for his scheduled hearing, he was ordered deported in absentia, i.e., in his absence.  We were retained after he was picked up by I.C.E., and when his physical removal was imminent.  We were able to demonstrate, with medical records, that the client’s father had been hospitalized following surgery on the hearing date, and the notice of the removal order was defective.  We convinced the Judge to vacate the deportation order, and then we were able to have his proceedings terminated based upon a new decision by the 2nd Circuit regarding the government’s burden of proof in controlled substance cases.

CONVICTION VACATED: RELIEF FROM DEPORTATION NOW AVAILABLE

It’s been 7 years since the Supreme Court ruled, in Padilla v. Kentucky, that it is ineffective assistance for defense counsel to fail to warn their client of the adverse immigration consequences of a proposed guilty plea, and yet, such failures continue to take place with shocking frequency. Unfortunately, the first time many learn their seemingly favorable plea bargain subjects them to deportation – removal, is after they are taken into ICE custody and are facing deportation. Often, the only way for them to avoid being deported is to go back to criminal court and try to vacate their conviction.

This past Friday, our CPL 440.10 motion to vacate our client’s misdemeanor conviction was granted, based on ineffective assistance of counsel. We convinced the Judge and District Attorney’s Office that if prior counsel had been aware the plea he negotiated would subject his client to deportation, he could easily have negotiated an alternate, non-deportable plea.  We then negotiated a plea to a lesser offense, and our client is now eligible for cancellation of removal as a non-permanent resident.

In far too many cases, a plea blindly entered into, subjects a lawful permanent resident to deportation, or renders an undocumented client ineligible for cancellation of removal. A major part of our practice involves guiding defense counsel and their clients safely through the immigration minefield; other times, as here, our familiarity with criminal-immigration law enables us to vacate a conviction and so help our clients avoid being deported.

Luckiest Man Alive…Cancellation Granted for Firearm Conviction

When he was 8, he was in a horrific auto-crash: his father died, he survived.

When he was 9, he immigrated to the U.S..

At 25, he was broadsided by a car while riding his motorcycle. His femur was exposed, he had multiple fractures, and they had him on a slab in the hospital’s basement morgue: dead. His mom arrived at the hospital shortly after the call to view her son’s body; as she screamed in grief, our client’s brother noticed his finger twitching…a coma! He went on to a full recovery!

Yesterday, at the conclusion of his deportation hearing, an Immigration Judge granted our client cancellation of removal, as a lawful permanent resident, for his conviction for possessing a firearm – also from his early 20’s. Now a grown man in his 40’s, the Judge recognized our client’s rehabilitation, including: his owner-ship of two thriving businesses; real estate holdings; his history of paying taxes; exceptionally close family ties; community service and his support for his mother throughout his life. Here’s to second chances and to keeping families together!

Christmas comes Early!

Monday, after trial, we won a cancellation of removal hearing for our client, a long term permanent resident. Despite his 15 years as a union painter – his drug addiction drew him into a major drug conspiracy, resulting in a felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance. Now he has a second chance at life.

Thursday, after 32 years of fearing deportation as an undocumented immigrant, our client adjusted her status and became lawful permanent resident. She started crying after the interviewer approved her application, then her son started crying, and when we went outside and told her elderly parents, they started crying. Tears of joy.  Continue reading

Speaking for the Suffolk County Criminal Defense Bar

Last week, I was asked to speak at an event for the Criminal Defense Bar in Suffolk County. The lecture was on Strategies to Avoid Triggering Deportation for Non-citizen Defendants. Padilla v. Kentucky mandated defense attorneys advise their non-citizen clients of the adverse immigration consequences of a proposed plea bargain. How can they do it if they themselves don’t understand the complex interplay between criminal and immigration law? Always an honor to be asked to share my experience in this field with my fellow criminal defense attorneys.