A 39-year-old Mexican national who has lived illegally in Pierce County for more than half of his life will be able to stay in the United States through the end of next year – and possibly longer.
Oscar Campos Estrada’s chances for staying in this country permanently took a major step forward when a federal immigration judge recently set his next court date for December 2013.
“He’s a long way from being deported,” Amy Kratz, a Seattle-based immigration lawyer, said Friday of Oscar’s case.
That’s because come May 7 – more than seven months before Oscar’s next court date – his oldest daughter, America, will turn 21. Once she does, she’s eligible as a U.S. citizen to file a green card eligibility petition on behalf of her father.
Unlike other family-based permanent residency petitions that can take years to process, those filed on behalf of the parents of U.S. children 21 and older are considered immediately. In the long line of illegal immigrants seeking green cards, parents of Americans have priority to adjust their immigration status.
Immigrants face a complex set of rules during the deportation process, with little to no professional legal help. Here’s a few of the options available, according to the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project.
On a walk-through last year of Northwest Detention Center, federal immigration officials and a privately-employed warden explained how the hundreds of men and women dressed in color-coded uniforms wound up here.
Leticia Jimenez-Diaz, 41, has two children who are U.S. citizens. But she herself is not. That fact divides her family in a way that could soon rip it apart.
Slumped at a table in a bare-walled meeting room at the Northwest Detention Center, she started to cry when a visitor asked about her children, then ages 9 and 16. She hadn’t seen them in a month and a half, ever since she was taken to the detention center for being in violation of a long-ago deportation order.
Fearful of being deported and possibly leaving her U.S.-born children behind with relatives, Leticia Jimenez-Diaz, breaks down in tears during a interview at the Northwest Detention Center. Dean J. Koepfler/The News Tribune
It’s an order she says she did not even know about.
In 1993, immigration officers swept through the plant nursery where she was working at the time. As a result, she was supposed to appear before an immigration judge.
But she says she never got the notice to appear.
“I think that they sent the notice to the wrong place,” she said. “I never received it.”
Her attorney, Carol Edward of Carol L. Edward & Associates, confirmed records show Jimenez-Diaz missed the date of that hearing, and in her absence, an immigration judge ordered her deported to Mexico in 1994.
Unaware of that development, however, Jimenez-Diaz continued raising her young sons in Mt. Vernon. She volunteered at their schools. Helped them play soccer. She worked in the flower bulb business and took classes at Skagit Valley College to learn English.
Detainees pass the time in one of the pods of the Northwest Detention Center’s 1575-bed facility as they wait for a decision on their cases. Dean J. Koepfler/The News Tribune
The legal decisions facing detained immigrants trying to represent themselves in immigration court are intimidating enough. For those with mental disabilities, they can be incomprehensible.
But a recent federal court decision could lead to a legal precedent that would give immigrants with mental impairments the right to a court-appointed attorney.
Currently, immigrants have no right to court-appointed legal representation for immigration proceedings.
“People with severe mental disabilities who are locked up in immigration detention are ground through this system without even understanding what is happening to them,” said Matt Adams, legal director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. NWIRP has taken up the cause on behalf of a severely schizophrenic man from the Ukraine, who was held at the Northwest Detention Center on Tacoma’s Tideflats for more than two years – from April 15, 2010, until June 22, 2012.
This is in stark contrast to the American criminal justice system, which gives defendants the right to court-appointed counsel, and also has a formal system for determining whether a defendant is mentally competent to understand charges and stand trial.
Young love, and a near-fatal car accident brought Ana Maria Gutierrez to the United States nearly half her life time ago. Now she faces a collision between immigration policies and her hopes for the future of her family, which includes six children, all American citizens.