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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Bloggings on Updates in Immigration Law

by Carl Shusterman

Editor's note: Here are the latest entries from Carl Shusterman's blog.

June 02, 2009

IMMIGRATION OFFICERS IN NEED OF A CAT

What is a CAT?  Not an animal, not a medical procedure, but a "Change of Attitude Transformation".

The old INS may have morphed into the USCIS, the CBP and ICE, but the attitudes toward immigrants have not changed much since I worked there 30 years ago.

As General Attorneys (Nationality) in the 1970s, our mantra was "when in doubt, send it out!" meaning that rather than recommend that a naturalization petition be granted, if we had the slightest degree of doubt, the safest course was to send the applicant's file to the investigations branch.  Not to do so would risk being accused of "giving away the store".  We were told that once we had granted a person citizenship, it would be too late for the INS to deport them, so we had to be very careful.

By the time that I became an INS Trial Attorney in the early 1980s, all Persian students were required to register with the government.  The top priority for investigators was to round up students who were driving yellow cabs and ice cream trucks.  Much to my dismay, they would routinely refer to them as "rag heads".

When I entered private pratice, one of my clients was a young woman born in China who immigrated to the U.S. as a toddler.  She was a U.S. citizen and a UCLA grad whose English was better than mine.  She married a British fellow and we were in the process of immigrating her husband's son from a prior marriage.  I remember how difficult it was for me to explain to the government examiner that she was the citizen and he was the alien.  The examiner didn't seem to comprehend. He kept repeating, "but she is the alien".  How an Asian woman could be sponsoring a Caucasian teenager was totally beyond him.

I would like to think that these attitudes are a thing of the past, but unfortunately they seem to be ingrained in the thinking of all too many government immigration officers.

Currently, we are representing a young man from Mexico who was petitioned by his U.S. citizen father when he was just 20 in the late 1990s.  Simultaneously, the son submitted an application for adjustment of status.  The son worked legally in the U.S. using an EAD.  Unfortunately, after his attorney was disbarred a few years ago, he stopped renewing his EAD.

Last week, he was stopped at an interior checkpoint, and asked for proof that he was legally present in the U.S.  (I often wonder what I would present if I were asked the same question, but then, people who look like me are never stopped at checkpoints, are we?)  He handed the officer his expired EAD with his alien number on it.  The officer could not find his file "in the system".  The son explained that his father was a U.S. citizen and had sponsored him over a decade ago.  The officer called the father, but was unable to find his information "in the system".  At this point, the son handed the officer my business card and asked him to call me, but the officer refused to do so.  Had he called me, I could have faxed him a copy of the father's Certificate of Naturalization and a copy of the approval of the visa petition.

Instead, the officer informed my client that he was going to arrest him.  If he wanted to see an Immigration Judge, the officer told him, he would be incarcerated for weeks. The better choice was to sign a "voluntary return" form, and he would be transported to Mexico and released from custody within a few hours.  My client took the officer's advice and signed away his rights.  I spoke to him in Mexico later that day.

The "system" had deprived my client of his rights.  If he had been accused of a felony, he would be entitled to certain rights under the Constitution.

But to the officer, he was just another alien, and once he signed the form, he had no rights.

Until such officers have a Change of Attitude Transformation, not much will change in the way our immigration laws are administered.