Earlier this month, students from Fordham Law Professor Gemma Solimene’s Immigrant Rights Clinic succeeded in halting the deportation of a lawful permanent resident of the United States whose immigration status was threatened by a low-level drug conviction.
The clinic’s client has lived in the United States since emigrating from his native Barbados in the 1980s. His entire immediate and extended family also resides in the U.S., and the man serves as the primary caretaker for an autistic son, a relationship that became unexpectedly threatened by a nearly decade-old criminal conviction for marijuana possession.
“In most cases, if a person has a criminal conviction, irrespective of how old that conviction is, that person remains deportable,” said Solimene. “The question always is if and when they come to the attention of immigration officials.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement learned about the clinic’s client’s conviction when he tried to reenter the United States following a visit to his ailing father. Though the conviction had failed to show up during a trip abroad that the client had taken just two month prior, the government was quick to take action once it had the information in hand.
Prior to issuing a deportation order, the Department of Homeland Security has to give potential deportees a hearing in Immigration Court, where they can argue for their right to stay in the country. In their effort to convince the Immigration Court judge to halt their client’s removal proceedings, the students of the Immigration Rights Clinic assembled a sizable body of evidence.
“You try and draw out the positives in the client’s life,” said Joshua Brandman ‘17, one of two Immigration Rights Clinic students who worked on the case. “The judge is going to weigh the positives against the negatives, and if the positives outweigh the negatives then he’s basically allowed to stay.”
Brandman worked with fellow clinic student Jessica Jang ‘17 to compile evidence of their client’s employment, prepare their client’s relatives to testify on his behalf, and gather medical evidence regarding the needs of their client’s autistic son. For this latter task, Brandman and Jang enlisted the help of Fordham social work student Patricia Greenmyer, who researched articles and studies about how autism affects a child and his or her caretaker.
“On its face it seems like it should be a pretty straightforward case, but there’s a lot that goes into it,” said Jang. “If you hear the story of the case it seems really sympathetic, but there are many things that could have been deemed to be negatives in our client’s life, and you have to think about how to offset that, or how to minimize that impact going into the hearing, and how to make his situation better.”
According to Solimene, the pedagogical value of these types of immigration cases arises specifically from their complexity. Rather than operating according to strict standards and tests, Immigration Court judges make decisions based on a holistic account of the petitioner’s life. Gathering the evidence needed to create this account requires ingenuity, sharp analytical skills, and a determined approach to research.
Once they had gathered their evidence, Brandman and Jang presented their client’s petition to an immigration judge, who granted their client’s application for Cancellation of Removal. For both Jang, who plans to work in the immigration field after graduation, and Brandman, who has accepted a job in the field of tax law, the victory provided an emotional high-point.
“After all this work on the case from the very beginning, being able to see the expression on our client’s face when I handed him his green card back was incredible,” said Brandman. “It’s a moment where you almost feel that nothing else quite matters.”