When our government actively pursues the deportation of a foreign national, most Americans assume it is a felon that poses a threat to public or has been found guilty of breaking federal law. They do not expect that person to be a grandmother married to an American citizen. And yet, that is exactly what happened to Sandra Rodriguez, in a case that immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg calls an outrageous example of government misconduct towards an immigrant.
“Sandra’s case is the most egregious case of misconduct and a violation of due process, moreso than any other case that I have ever seen,” Isenberg said.”Unfortunately, foreign nationals receive this type of treatment often.”
Rodriquez is a textbook case of a foreign national that qualifies for an adjustment of residency status, as she meets multiple government standards to stay in the country legally. Rodriquez qualified for a green card because she is married to an American citizen, and after she applied for one, immigration officials assured her she would not be deported until a decision on her application was made. That didn’t matter to Dallas ICE agents, who detained her and deported her in February. She is now homeless in a Mexican border town, wondering why ICE officials in Dallas were so determined to deport her.
A violation of due process
Immigration law and Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) policy has set guidelines under which a foreign national can seek a change in residency status and relief from deportation. Isenberg says Rodriguez was repeatedly denied due process in resolving her immigration status from both the Dallas ICE office and Immigration Judge Dietrich Sims.
Rodriguez’s troubles began when she paid an immigration attorney $7,500 to handle her immigration case. Rather than file an I-130 (a form for foreign national spouses of American citizens to apply for a green card) as he promised, the attorney accepted an offer by ICE officials for Rodriguez to leave the country voluntarily, without her knowledge or consent. When Rodriguez learned what happened, she went to Isenberg for help. Isenberg’s staff filed the I-130 as well as an I-246, a form which would delay Rodriguez’s deportation until her status was determined. ICE officials, however, detained Rodriguez and began deportation proceedings.
The Morton Memo
ICIE staff members informed Dallas ICE officials that Rodriguez met enough criteria set by the Morton Memo to allow her to stay in the country. The 2011 Morton Memo (issued by ICE Director John Morton and detailed here) outlines 19 factors that ICE agents could use to justify using “prosecutorial discretion” with foreign nationals. Prosecutorial discretion allows ICE to release a foreign national from custody and suspend a deportation order. This would prevent families from being needlessly torn apart, especially if the foreign national would likely qualify for legal residency. Of the 19 factors listed in the Morton memo, Rodriguez met 14 of them. “I’ve never had someone meet as many of the qualifications for prosecutorial discretion as Sandra,” Isenberg said. “There was no reason why she should have been detained or deported.”
Among the 14 factors Rodriguez met were being married to a U.S. citizen, having a medical condition that requires ongoing treatment, family ties in the United States, the length of her presence in the country, and the likelihood that she would qualify for legal residency. Even though she made a strong case to stay in the country under the Morton Memo, Dallas ICE officials continued their efforts to deport her.
Rodriguez was transferred to Del Rio as part of the deportation process, and it was only then that Isenberg learned that Rodriguez was being deported because Dallas ICE officials did not believe she was married to an American citizen. In desperation, her husband, Juan Garcia, took his Dallas County marriage license (issued in 2011) to the Dallas ICE office, but officials refused to look at the documents and told him to leave.
“Dallas ICE officials lied to us about Sandra’s case, saying it was not their decision. However, we were told by ICE officials in Del Rio that her deportation order came from the Dallas office because she was not really married to a U.S. citizen,” Isenberg said.
“First of all, it is not Dallas ICE’s responsibility to determine if a marriage is real or a green card marriage,” Isenberg said. “USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) determines that. Anyone who met Sandra and Juan could see they were in love. They were the nicest couple you’ve ever seen.” Sandra now serves as a mother figure to Juan’s three children and four grandchildren, all U.S. citizens. Juan’s extended family of thirty relatives have all accepted Sandra as part of the family.
An immigration judge ignores the facts
In a last-minute effort to stop her deportation, Isenberg filed emergency petitions with Immigration Judge Dietrich Sims, pointing out many of the extenuating circumstances of Rodriguez’s case that required review that ICE had rejected. Isenberg pointed out that Rodriguez should not face deportation while her I-130 application was still in process. She had been hospitalized in January for a serious medical condition which requires ongoing treatment, and ICE policy allows for foreign nationals to stay in the country under such circumstances to receive that medical treatment.
In addition, Isenberg pointed out that Rodriguez was the victim of ineffective counsel. Her original immigration attorney made no effort to get her residency status adjusted, and instead accepted voluntary departure on her behalf without her permission. “Foreign nationals are often victimized by unscrupulous attorneys,” Isenberg said. “She thought he had filed an I-130 on her behalf, but he took her money and did nothing but tell ICE she would leave the country.” In all, Isenberg filed four emergency appeals for Judge Sims to consider.
Rodriguez was not done being a victim. The final insult would come from Judge Sims, who was well aware of the time sensitive nature of the appeals. He denied the appeal to stop the deportation without comment or explanation, and never acknowledged the others. Rather than informing Isenberg of his decision, Sims let his decision sit on his desk for three days, then sent the decision by regular mail. “We gave Judge Sims our phone number and email address in our appeal, so we could be contacted immediately,” Isenberg said. “Instead, he sat on it and then mailed it. By the time we received his decision, Sandra had already been deported. Judge Sims knew by delaying notification, we could not then appeal his decision. It was a cowardly act to avoid further action on this case, and he should be sanctioned for it.”
Judge Sims has recently been the target of criticism and scrutiny over his behavior in court. He was recently removed from hearing cases involving children after accusations of unprofessional behavior against foreign nationals in his court.
In response to Sandra’s treatment, Isenberg has filed complaints with the Department of Justice, citing misconduct by both the Dallas ICE office and Judge Sims, saying Rodriguez’s constitutional right to due process was violated. He is also planning a pro se lawsuit in federal court claiming his First Amendment rights were violated when Dallas ICE officials refused to let him represent foreign nationals as “reputable individual,” a process allowed under immigration law.
“We are drawing a line in the sand with Sandra’s case,” Isenberg said. “If they can ignore the facts of her case and deport her, they can do it to anyone. Her case reminds me of the story about the boy who found hundreds of starfish washed up on a beach, dying. He began picking them up one at a time and returning them to the ocean. His father told him it was useless, that he couldn’t save every starfish. The boy then responded that to the one starfish he could save, it meant everything. To me, Sandra is our starfish. We can’t save everyone, but we are determined to save her.”
Victor Medina writes for Yahoo News and his political blog WhenLiberalsAttack.com. His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to receive a weekly email update from WhenLiberalsAttack.com. To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SUBSCRIBE link here or at the top of this page.