Four months after refusing to grant Cristina’s appeal and reverse her deportation order, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has overturned its decision in response to a motion to reconsider. To get the BIA to overturn its own ruling is no small feat. Cristina had received a deportation order in the first place because her attorney never filed an asylum application on her behalf; instead, her lawyer simply accepted an order of deportation on her behalf without fighting her case.
Cristina reached out to the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) through our private online community in September 2017, just days before she was due for an ICE check-in because she feared being deported to El Salvador. We quickly mobilized our team to file an emergency appeal of her deportation order, even though the deadline to appeal had passed more than two years before.
When the BIA denied the appeal, ASAP worked with a team of legal experts to file a motion to reconsider, arguing that because of the ineffective legal counsel that Cristina received, she should have the right to preserve her ability to file for asylum.
In February, the BIA finally acknowledged the merits of Cristina’s claim, reversing her deportation order and giving her a chance to fight her case in immigration court for the first time.
Unfortunately, Cristina’s situation is all too common. The firm that originally represented her charged her for legal services without preparing her case. The same is true in at least five nearly identical cases, where the BIA has been asked to accept late-filed appeals because the same firm failed to represent its clients. In one of these cases, the firm admitted that it was “firm policy … that persons from Central American countries generally did not have a valid claim to asylum.” Meanwhile, ASAP has won numerous asylum cases for Central American asylum seekers across the United States.
Having overturned Cristina’s deportation order, the BIA has recognized that it is willing to consider late-filed appeals in cases involving ineffective assistance of counsel. ASAP is hopeful that this willingness will result in the reversal of countless deportation orders received by asylum seekers through no fault of their own.
“The moral of this story,” said expert immigration attorney Michelle Mendez, one of ASAP’s board members, “is that defending the rights of immigrants is tough work. We battle inhumane policies, cowardly or openly authoritarian leaders, greedy representatives who fill their coffers with private prison money, negative public opinion, intentional and unintentional media misinformation, notarios/unauthorized practitioners of law, and even other attorneys who abandon their duty to zealously represent their vulnerable clients. But when competent and caring advocates join forces, we can do anything.”
On that note, ASAP is grateful for the support and assistance provided by the following advocates in this case: Mayu Arimoto, Keith Farmer, Bradley Jenkins, Craig Katz, Laura Lichter, Kristin Macleod-Ball, Trina Realmuto, Lory Rosenberg, Katie Shephard, Elizabeth Singer, Varsha Subramiam, Shana Tabak, and Ben Winograd!
A copy of the unpublished BIA decision can be found here.