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.
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!
Negotiating the intricacies of the deportation-removal process is extremely difficult for most immigrants, however, undiagnosed mental illness can make it virtually impossible. Our client, a Salvadoran national, was taken into custody shortly after entering the U.S. without inspection at the Texas-Mexico border. He was placed into custody, and promptly exhibited classic symptoms of paranoia and schizophrenia, including hallucinations and fearful behavior. After being released from custody, his mental condition continued to deteriorate; he missed his hearing in the Immigration Court and was ordered deported-removed. After years of suffering, and several hospitalizations, his condition was diagnosed and he was stabilized through medication.
We obtained, summarized, and presented his medical records demonstrating that his mental illness prevented him from appearing for his removal hearing. We convinced D.H.S. to consent to our motion to reopen his deportation order. On November 22, 2016, an Immigration Judge granted our motion to reopen the deportation order, and also terminated the proceedings against our client. For the first time in 18 years, our client is free of the fear of deportation and we are in the process of legalizing his immigration status. Meticulous preparation, including obtaining and reviewing the records of our client’s mental health treatment corroborated our defense of mental incapacity, and proved essential to winning this motion to reopen.
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 →
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.
In the past month, we successfully vacated two criminal convictions for our clients, and as a result, their deportation-removal proceedings will be terminated.
One client lost his Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), because his defense attorney failed to warn him that pleading guilty to a second misdemeanor would render him removable. After pleading guilty, the client was placed into removal proceedings. After we filed a 440 Motion with the Criminal Court, the Judge granted our motion to vacate his conviction, finding that prior counsel’s failure to warn our client of the direct immigration consequences of his guilty plea, violated the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, which requires defense attorneys to warn their clients of the immigration consequences of a proposed guilty plea. The Criminal Court Judge found defense counsel’s ineffective assistance prevented our client from making an informed decision on whether to plead guilty. Our client is now eligible to reapply for Temporary Protected Status, and we will be moving the Immigration Court to terminate his removal proceedings. Continue reading →
After being placed in deportation-removal proceedings due to her felony fraud conviction involving a $10,000.00 loss to the government, we were able to overcome the aggravated felony bar to cancellation of removal and win our lawful permanent resident a grant of cancellation of removal.
Our client, a single mother, pleaded guilty to felony larceny for under-reporting her income when renewing her public housing contract. She was ordered to pay $10,000.00 in restitution, and although a lawful permanent resident, she was placed into deportation-removal proceedings for having been convicted of a fraud aggravated felony. Several immigration attorneys advised her she had in fact been convicted of an aggravated felony, and would almost certainly be deported despite having lived in this country in excess of 20 years and despite having minor U.S. citizen children; they turned her away. Her two prior convictions for D.W.I. were more salt in the wound. She was referred to our firm. A Dollar’s Difference Spares Deportation! Continue reading →
Winston Churchill said we should “Never Surrender”, and he was right.
Too often attorneys see a non-citizen, especially a lawful permanent resident, who is charged with an aggravated felony conviction, and they simply turn the case away because they believe nothing can be done for the person, but that is often just not true. Sure, aggravated felony cases are the hardest to win, but the reality is they can be successfully defended, although we can’t win them all, we have saved many clients with seemingly hopeless deportation-removal cases.
We realize even good people sometimes make serious mistakes. Often they’ve accepted responsibility for what they’ve done. They’ve pled guilty to a felony, served a prison sentence, and in many instances have gone on to change their lives for the better. Then one day there’s a knock at the door, the person is taken into custody by I.C.E. and they face the true terror of deportation proceedings: mandatory detention, immigration court, and the threat of being deported and separated from their home and families. In many cases, the person came to the U.S. as a child. They have had no contact with their native country and have no prospects for employment. They face a life of misery and isolation if deported, and their families in the U.S. will also suffer. That is why it is so important to fight these cases, and to win. Here are some recent examples. Continue reading →